SYRACUSE, N.Y. — After Syracuse held his team to 35 points below its season average and the lowest point total of the season, Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams had a message for his ACC counterparts, and it’s not a message his fellow coaches want to hear.
“I think it will be a tough defense for any team to crack and I think part of the reason why he (Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim) plays zone exclusively is the change of pace and the prep time it takes to prepare, and uniqueness in comparison to the other 13 teams you’ll play in the league,” Williams said after the Orange (12-2, 1-0) dismantled the Hokies 68-56 in the conference opener for both teams on Sunday.
The Hokies (11-3, 0-1) entered the game leading the nation in field goal percentage and ranked fourth in 3-point percentage (43.7) and sixth in scoring at 91.3 points per game. The Hokies’ previous low was 63 points against Presbyterian. The Hokies entered the game as the ACC’s leading 3-point team, hitting at a 44 percent clip from beyond the arc.
Syracuse held Virginia Tech to 35 percent shooting overall and just 33 percent from 3.
“Sometimes our zone is better against shooting teams than a man-to-man is and tonight was a good example of that,” Boeheim said. “Why? We don’t want to tell everybody that. It just is.”
Oshae Brissett had 19 points, Matthew Moyer had 11 points and 13 rebounds, a career high, to lead Syracuse. Brissett, who also snagged nine rebounds, had 12 of his points in the second half. Tyus Battle and Frank Howard had 17 points apiece for Syracuse.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker led Virginia Tech with 19 points. Justin Robinson and Justin Bibbs had 10 each.
The Hokies, trailing 32-19 at the break, started the second half on a 12-2 run on two 3s by Bibbs and one 3 each by Alexander-Walker and Robinson to narrow the Orange lead to 34-31 with 14:34 left. But Syracuse withstood the rally and went on an 11-0 run of its own, capped by a 3-pointer by Battle, to extend its margin to 45-31 with 11:29 remaining. Syracuse extended to its largest lead, 66-46, on a put-back by Moyer with 2:23 to go.
“In hindsight it was a bad coaching decision,” Williams said. “I should have used a timeout during their run, but when we closed it to 3 I thought potentially it was about to be a game and I wanted to have timeouts down the stretch. I kept hoping their run would stop and it didn’t so in hindsight I should have used one.”
The first half was a nip and tuck affair when the Orange went on a 15-3 run and closed the half with a 13-point lead. Howard had eight points and Battle seven during the run. The 19 points marked the fewest for Hokies this season.
The Hokies hit just 3 of 13 from beyond the arc, and just 6 of 23 overall in the first half.
Syracuse backup center Bourama Sidibe sat out for the fourth time in six games due to nagging knee and ankle injuries. Coach Jim Boeheim said he’s still thinking about a medical redshirt for the freshman, who was providing valuable minutes spelling Paschal Chukwu.
Virginia Tech runs into another tough defensive matchup against Virginia — but at least the Hokies won’t be playing a zone.
Syracuse rides high heading into its first ACC road game of the season. While you could have seen a Syracuse win Sunday, the margin was surprising. If Matthew Moyer can be a factor, the Orange will surprise.
Virginia Tech hosts in-state and ACC rival No. 9 Virginia Wednesday.
Syracuse has its first ACC road test Wednesday against Wake Forest.