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GREENSBORO, N.C. — Syracuse and Virginia went back and forth for the entire second half, with neither team leading by more than four in the opening 17 minutes of the half. Each time it looked like the Cavaliers were going to stretch their lead and pull away, SU found a basket.
The Orange battled their way back from a seven-point deficit in the game’s last two minutes, only for Reece Beekman to hit a buzzer-beating 3 to win the game. Beekman’s 3 propelled Virginia (18-6, 13-4 Atlantic Coast) into the ACC Tournament semifinals with a 72-69 win against Syracuse (16-9, 9-7) on Thursday. The basket was Beekman’s eighth 3-pointer of the season.
Here are three takeaways from the Orange’s last-second loss:
Buddy Boeheim’s career game propels SU, but not far enough
While Quincy Guerrier has cooled off in the second half of the season, Buddy Boeheim has carried Syracuse on offense down the final stretch and in Greensboro. Buddy scored 27 points in the second round game against NC State and continued his torrid shooting on Thursday against the league’s best defense. Virginia threw every look they could at Buddy and chased him around the court for 39 minutes. Buddy started with the Orange’s first two baskets and scored 15 first-half points as the Orange posted 39 first-half points.
Virginia tried to counter with Kihei Clark, Justin McKoy, Beekman — anyone who could contest the red-hot Buddy. Even when contested, Buddy rarely missed. He finished the game 10-of-17 from the field, 5-of-8 from 3 and made two free throws to tie the game in the final 30 seconds.
When the Cavaliers overcommitted to helping on Buddy, he also dished out three first-half assists. The Orange may have fallen to the league’s best team on Thursday afternoon, but his shooting gives them a chance to win NCAA Tournament games if they hear their name called Sunday.
Six minute scoreless run downs Syracuse
Syracuse’s offense was getting every look it wanted against the Cavaliers’ pack-line defense in the opening 16 minutes. When Kadary Richmond made a 2-pointer with 3:57 left in the half, SU had 39 points. Only No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 15 had scored that many points on the Cavaliers in a first half all season. But coming out of the media timeout, the Cavaliers tightened up their defense. The Orange didn’t score for the ensuing six minutes, as UVA turned a 39-30 deficit into a 42-39 lead in that scoreless stretch.
The Orange had made five of their first nine 3s, but their open looks became more and more difficult as Virginia increased its ball pressure and took away second-chance opportunities. Clark picked Buddy’s pocket for an easy fast-break layup, Jay Huff used his lengthy frame to alter shots on the interior and the precise ball movement that had defined the opening 16 minutes became plenty of isolation looks.
Jesse Edwards and Marek Dolezaj both missed shots inside on Huff, and Buddy’s 3 from the top of the key with five seconds left in the half rimmed out.
Buddy, Alan Griffin and Joe Girard III all missed their first shots of the opening half before Buddy’s pull-up jumper with 17:19 left finally ended the scoreless run at 6:38. But the Orange had squandered the lead they’d spent the first 16 minutes building.
Robert Braswell’s emergence off the bench cues first half run
Robert Braswell averaged just eight minutes per game off the bench in the regular season. But in two days in Greensboro, Braswell has been one of the Orange’s most critical pieces. He played 21 minutes in the Orange’s blowout win against NC State on Wednesday and shined again in the opening half against Virginia before foul trouble cut down his minutes. Braswell made both of his 3-point attempts and grabbed an offensive rebound that led to second-chance points. His defense on the perimeter was part of the reason the Cavaliers made 3-of-16 from 3 in the opening half. He battled with Huff on the interior for rebounds and ultimately ran into foul trouble because of that, but not before he played 10 minutes in the opening frame.
He subbed in seven minutes into the game for Griffin and made his impact immediately. Braswell hit a 3 on an assist from Buddy, ran the open floor and caught an assist from Girard for a dunk. Girard connected with him again a few possessions later, this one a Girard lob from outside the 3-point arc.
When a long rebound fell to him and no Virginia player immediately contested, Braswell rose up and drained his second 3 of the game.
“Rob has been tremendous down the stretch for us,” Buddy said after the NC State win. “Not just offensively being a shooter, but he’s really good at — when it goes in the high post, he drops down almost right away and he cuts that pass off … You know he’s going to make the right play. He’s a really smart player. He’s grown a lot.”
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