No. 11 Virginia aims to tighten defense vs. surging Syracuse

Following an uncharacteristically poor half of defense, No. 11 Virginia will look to bounce back with a tighter effort Saturday against visiting Syracuse at Charlottesville, Va.

The Cavaliers (10-3, 2-2 ACC) limited Pitt to 23 first-half points Tuesday and appeared on their way to a third consecutive win and potentially a fifth game of holding their opponent to 50 points or less. Then Virginia gave up 45 points in the second half en route to a surprising 68-65 defeat.

“It stings, because this one, if we just would have tightened the defense up, I think it would have been there for us,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said. “… You can’t give up 45 points in the second half and expect to (win). We still had a chance, but that won’t cut it defensively, and we’ll just have to go back to the drawing board.”

Kihei Clark had 17 points and Armaan Franklin 14 for Virginia, but the main talk afterward was about the defensive lapses.

“Everybody was displeased with the defensive part,” Franklin said. “We know we have to depend on (our defense). We’ll take a look at the film and see what we could have done better, but we’re not happy with how we played on defense that second half.”

Virginia’s defense could face a stern challenge in the form of Syracuse (10-5, 3-1), which has won seven of its past eight games. The Orange’s only loss in that stretch also came against Pitt, 84-82 on Dec. 20.

Most recently, Syracuse defeated Louisville 70-69 on Tuesday behind 28 points from Joe Girard III. There was also 16 points from Judah Mintz and 12 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks from Jesse Edwards.

“I’m just very thankful that Joe Girard didn’t want to lose the game,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “We shouldn’t be in that position. We made some really bad turnovers to get down. Joe made some plays down the stretch.”

Boeheim continues to be displeased with his forwards, in particular starters Chris Bell and Benny Williams. The duo combined for 11 points and six rebounds against Louisville.

“The forwards are not playing good enough,” Boeheim said. “It is strange because Chris Bell, when he gets a shot, he makes it. They can make shots. They can’t do anything else. That’s just hard to win (with them playing like this). They’re in position, but they’re just not used to battling, and you have to battle. Benny Williams is big and strong, and he’s not doing the job we need on the boards.”

Virginia has won seven of the past eight meetings with Syracuse, including three in a row. The Cavaliers won last season’s meeting 74-69 as Clark and Franklin led the way with 17 points apiece.

“When you score 69 points against Virginia, then you should be able to win the game,” Boeheim said after that contest. “They (typically) give up 50. Our defense was a disgrace. That’s me. I’m the coach. I’m responsible for that.”

–Field Level Media