'Hoos head home after statement win at Syracuse

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- A week into November, and already seven men’s basketball teams are off to 1-0 starts in ACC play. That includes Virginia, who opened defense of the program’s NCAA title by holding Syracuse to the program’s lowest point total in the near 40-year history of the Carrier Dome in Wednesday night’s 48-34 victory.

It was UVA’s first time opening up with an ACC opponent since 1960 – and against an opponent coached by Hall-of-Famer Jim Boeheim, and known for the unique challenge of its matchup zone on defense. After the win, UVA coach Tony Bennett said he understood why his team had to open with such a tough road test – but he felt a lot better about it after the Wahoos passed that test.

“It is what it is. You show up and you play,” Bennett said. “And sometimes playing in a tough setting, against a quality, respected, great coach. Quality, respected team. It makes your guys, you’ve got to be ready. And there’s a fear factor to it, or a concern factor. So from that standpoint it was good.”

Bennett admitted that neither team played at a high level for much of Wednesday’s opener. The Wahoos shot just 4-of-25 from beyond the 3-point line, and turned the ball over 16 times. But UVA held Syracuse to just 23.6 percent shooting, including a 5-of-29 night on 3-pointers. UVA also out-rebounded the Orange 47-28.

“On the road, you’ll take them no matter how you get it,” UVA senior guard Braxton Key, who finished with seven points and 10 rebounds, said afterward. “Played Syracuse in a tight one today, we couldn’t buy a shot but it shows our defense, it had to be that much better. And we came out today and I think we made a statement, not only to ourselves but as well as the country.”

After helping Syracuse make dubious history on its home court, the Wahoos now return home for three in a row, starting with Sunday’s home opener against James Madison. UVA doesn’t play its next ACC game until the first weekend in December, against North Carolina at John Paul Jones Arena.

The Cavaliers are a combined 31-2 on their home floor the past two seasons.

“Night in and night out, we’re playing hard. And there’s no mercy for anyone,” said UVA senior forward Mamadi Diakite, who finished with 12 points and six boards against the Orange. “So for us, being able to win on the road, that’s huge for us. But now we’re going to turn the page around.”