SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — De’Andre Hunter scored 15 points, Kyle Guy added 14 and second-ranked Virginia smothered struggling Syracuse 59-44 on Saturday.
Virginia (22-1, 11-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), which beat the Orange 68-61 in January, has won 14 straight and is off to its best start in conference play since the days of Ralph Sampson, who led the 1980-81 team to a 12-0 start.
Syracuse (15-8, 4-6), in desperate need of a signature victory, was coming off a four-point loss at Wake Forest in which it shot 30 percent (15 of 50), and the offensive futility continued against the nation’s best scoring defense.
The Orange shot under 40 percent in the January loss to the Cavaliers and fared worse the second time around. Syracuse finished 17 of 50 (34 percent) and its 44 points were its fewest ever in the Carrier Dome.
The Orange needed big games from its top three scorers — Tyus Battle, Frank Howard, and Oshae Brissett — and they didn’t deliver. Battle finished with 15 points on 6-of-17 shooting, Howard was 4 of 17 for 11 points and Brissett had nine points. Syracuse was 4 of 20 from beyond the arc.
Syracuse entered the game ranked fourth in the nation in field-goal percentage defense (37.7 percent), just behind Virginia, but the Cavaliers exhibited their usual patience on offense and hit 12 of 24 shots in the first half to take a 10-point lead at the break. None came from second-leading scorer Devon Hall, who missed the only shot he attempted.
As expected, the game was a methodical, slow-paced slog with each team repeatedly shooting at the end of the shot clock, especially the Orange. The Cavaliers, who never trailed, found room inside the Orange’s 2-3 zone and hit three jumpers from the foul line in the opening 15 minutes.
Virginia built its biggest lead of the period with help from the long ball during an 11-0 run late. Ty Jerome hit a 3 from the top of the key with 6:32 left for a 23-18 lead and Hunter hit another from the left corner just over two minutes later.
Jerome’s second 3 of the period completed the surge and was a beauty of teamwork. Instead of going up for a putback after a strong rebound under the basket, Isaiah Wilkins zipped a pass to the right corner to a wide-open Jerome, and he swished it.
Syracuse managed just one basket in the final seven minutes, a 3 by Battle with just under a minute left as the Orange were held to 8-of-23 shooting (34.8 percent), 3 of 11 from beyond the arc (27.3).
The Orange, who had to work hard for every shot, got a jolt of applause from the home crowd on Frank Howard’s dunk off a steal by Marek Dolezaj that moved Syracuse within 36-27 early in the second half.
The good feeling was short-lived. Mamadi Diakite hit a fall-away jumper along the baseline at the shot-clock buzzer after nearly losing the ball out of bounds, and Guy followed with a long fall-away 3-pointer from the right wing for a 41-27 lead with 13:23 left.
Diakite matched his season high with 12 points.
The Cavaliers put the game away with a 12-0 run midway through the second half and finished 23 of 47 shooting (48.9 percent).
The Cavaliers are on a serious roll and are poised to take over the top spot if Villanova stumbles.
Syracuse center Paschal Chukwu was a factor in the first game between the teams, notching a career-high 16 rebounds and scoring nine points in 35 minutes. The 7-foot-2 Chukwu had zero points and three rebounds.
Virginia: Virginia continues to subdue its opponents with its stifling defense and has separated itself from the rest of the conference. No other team in the ACC has fewer than three losses. The Cavaliers have road games against Florida State, Miami, Pittsburgh and Louisville before closing out the regular season at home against Notre Dame.
Syracuse: The Orange have three more chances to notch a signature victory to bolster their resume for NCAA Tournament consideration, with games still on the schedule against No. 4 Duke, No. 19 North Carolina and No. 20 Clemson. Last season, the Orange had three upsets of top-15 ranked teams on its home floor and so far this year they have none. Syracuse also has only has one road win in conference play, and that came against last-place Pittsburgh, which is winless in 10 conference games.