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Sunday, Dec 31, 2017 at 10:11 pm

Defense Earns Men’s Basketball a Win in ACC Opener

By Nick Dugan

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Virginia Tech took a 14-13 lead on an Ahmed Hill three-pointer with 9:54 left in the first half.

On the following possession, Marek Dolezaj blocked Virginia Tech guard Justin Robinson before finishing with a layup on the other end. Playing both ends of the floor, Dolezaj put Syracuse back in front, this time for good. The freshman’s defense helped Syracuse (12-2, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) to a 68-56 win over Virginia Tech (11-3, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) in its conference opener.

Last Wednesday, SU struggled in the first half against Eastern Michigan, shooting just under 24 percent in the first half. Against Virginia Tech, they shot 49 percent from the field, opening up a 32-19 halftime lead.

“We attacked the basket,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said. “Frank (Howard) made some really good plays in the first half. He made three big threes to get us some separation.”

But, it was the defense that stole the show on New Year’s Eve. SU held a V-Tech team shooting nearly 44 percent from deep and 54.5 percent overall to 33 and 35 percent respectively.

The Orange zone has struggled against good three-point shooters this season. Maryland’s Kevin Huerter was 7-of-9 from three-point range back in November, while Kansas’ Devonte’ Graham went 7-of-13 from deep. But, against the Hokies, it was up to the task.

“I thought that defensively we were really good in the first half,” Boeheim said. “We took away their inside stuff and we really got to their shooters.”

As for Matthew Moyer, the group’s mentality has been the difference.

“This team is focusing more on practice,” he said. “Every single day is a game. We’ve got to treat it like a game. If we don’t, we’re not going to play well defensively. If we do, we will.”

“Our defense is really good and it’s just continuing to improve,” Tyus Battle said. “It’s going to get better as the season goes on.”

V-Tech gave Boeheim and company a bit of a scare at the start of the second half, however. Four quick three-pointers quickly brought the Hokies to within three with 14:35 remaining.

“(The) second half started, we didn’t do a good job defensively getting back,” Boeheim said. “They got three open threes – they’re going to make them.”

‘Cuse answered right back with an 11-0 spurt of its own, including a thunderous dunk from Matthew Moyer and capped off by a Tyus Battle three-pointer.

At times, it wasn’t pretty. On the receiving end of a full-court press in the second half, SU coughed up 15 turnovers.

But, the Orange found a way to win.

“We’re that team that’s going to grind it out,” Howard said. “Something that coach wanted to voice to us that every game is going to be a dogfight for us. So, we’re used to it.”

Syracuse will return to ACC action in Winston-Salem, North Carolina against Wake Forest on Wednesday. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.