Cavs claim first ACC outright title since Sampson era
Malcolm Brogdon talked before No. 12 Virginia's final home game about making it a success for seniors Joe Harris, Akil Mitchell and even former walk-on Thomas Rogers, the first building blocks in Tony Bennett's remaking of the Cavaliers.
On Saturday, Brogdon made sure his teammates left happy. He scored 17 of his career-high 19 points in the second half, including eight in a decisive run that sent Virginia on its way to a 75-56 victory against No. 4 Syracuse.
The victory was the 13th in a row for the Cavaliers, and secured their first outright ACC regular-season championship in 33 years.
"Super exciting," the redshirt sophomore said of watching the final seconds tick off the clock with students poised to charge the court despite pleas from the public address announcer that they stay put. "You could do nothing but smile at that point when you beat a good team like that and you're having success like we're having. It's surreal when you think about it."
The last Virginia team to win the ACC outright had sophomore Ralph Sampson in the middle. This one has no players of that stature, but a handful all capable of taking over games with either a critical offensive play, or a defensive stop.
Mitchell added 12 points and nine rebounds, and Mike Tobey and Justin Anderson scored 11 apiece for the Cavaliers (25-5, 16-1 ACC), who won their 13th in a row overall, and their 18th straight at home against ACC competition. Syracuse was only the second ranked team beaten in that home streak, but as has so often been the case this year, it wasn't close at the end.
Mitchell and Tobey were especially crucial early when Harris and Brogdon struggled. Mitchell had eight points and seven rebounds by halftime, and Tobey was more assertive and aggressive inside. He had seven points and four boards at the half.
"I knew this was a big game going in and I have been playing not up to what I feel like I could play up to, so I just came into this game with an aggressive mentality," the 6-foot-11 Tobey said. He finished with eight rebounds, five on offense.
Bennett was able to empty his bench and get Rogers into the game, and the senior put a cap on the day in dramatic fashion, hitting a fallaway 3-pointer from the left corner for the first points in ACC play of his career.
'That was the best moment of the game," Brogdon said. It was Virginia's seventh 3-pointer in 11 second-half tries.
Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair each scored 13 for the Orange (26-3, 13-3), who lost for the third time in four games. Syracuse played much of the game without ailing Jerami Grant because of a sore back, but coach Jim Boeheim said it was no excuse.
"They had a tremendous second half. They proved that they could hit those 3s, and got it going a little bit," Boeheim said. "Everyone knows they are a tremendous defensive team and they are also an impressive 3-point team. They got going in the second half. I have thought that for a couple weeks, that they have been by far the best team."
As it has so often this season, Virginia took command with a second-half spree fed in part by its defense, and in part by a celebrating sell-out crowd, many of whom stood throughout the second half.
"The last time I heard it that loud, I was at a Taylor Swift concert," Bennett said.
Brogdon broke a 42-all tie with two free throws, and then hit a jumper from the foul line. After a turnover by the Orange, London Perrantes hit a deep 3-pointer that gave the Cavaliers a 49-42 lead.
Rakeem Christmas' dunk after a Syracuse timeout quieted the crowd, but only for a minute because Anderson made a 3-pointer from the right side, Brogdon followed an Orange miss with a jumper and then followed another miss with a jumper. The lead was 56-45 with 5:15 remaining and fans sensed that the Cavaliers were in the process of putting away the game.
Ennis, playing with four fouls, hit a pair of free throws to slow the run, but Harris hit a free throw, and then followed a Syracuse miss with a 3-pointer, his first basket in nine tries, causing the crowd to erupt in appreciation for the four-year starter. Harris was removed with 38.9 seconds left to a deafening cheer at Jones Paul Jones Arena.
Virginia had first-half runs of 9-0 and 8-2 in building a 22-15 lead, but a jumper by Fair and Ennis' 3-pointer — the first of the game — with 5:14 left in the half sparked 13-2 burst for the Orange.
Cooney, who had missed 22 of his last 27 3-point shots, and Richmond native Michael Gbinije then connected back-to-back from beyond the arc for Syracuse, and Christmas' dunk made it 28-24.
Justin Anderson hit a 3, Virginia's first, with 47 seconds left and it was 28-27 at the half.