SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Different cast.
Faced with a stiff test in its first game since winning the 2019 national championship, No. 11 Virginia came into the Carrier Dome on Wednesday night and thrashed a Syracuse team in a program that has traditionally ranked among college basketball’s elite.
The Cavaliers led by as many as 18 points in the second half before posting a comfortable 48-34 victory.
The Orange shot 25 percent from the field.
“Our defense definitely wanted that game,” UVa point guard Kihei Clark told the ACC Network after the game. “We showed them some things they hadn’t seen before, but mostly we’re just proud of how we performed on defense.”
Clark opened the season with 10 points and 11 rebounds — more rebounds than preseason All-ACC pick Mamadi Diakite and just one less than 7-foot-1 Jay Huff.
“They’re definitely going to hear about it in the locker room,” he joked.
An early Cavalier blitz had Virginia leading 13-2 following a 3-pointer by freshman Casey Morsell with 9:22 left in the half and Syracuse couldn’t get anything going.
Huff had 11 points to also finish with a double-double. Diakite scored 12 points.
The Orange missed 12 of its first 13 shots from the field but cut the deficit to 19-16 inside the 3-minute mark before halftime.
UVa got a bucket from Diakite with 20.6 seconds remaining in the half, and Syracuse was unable to counter as the Cavaliers went into halftime up 25-19.
There were a few surprises in a UVa starting lineup that included freshman Morsell and junior-college transfer Tomas Woldetensae on the perimeter.
Huff was a revelation off the bench. He was 3-for-3 from the field and had six points and seven rebounds by halftime as the Cavaliers outrebounded the Orange 25-10 over the first 20 minutes.
Syracuse was 7 for 27 from field in the first half and UVa was 11 of 24.
It was the first time that Virginia had opened the season against an ACC opponent since 1960, when the Cavaliers lost to visiting Maryland 57-52 at Memorial Gymnasium, UVa’s home at the time.
Virginia also was the first NCAA champion to begin the next season on an opponent’s home floor since 1967, when UCLA opened against Purdue.
Gone from the Cavaliers’ championship team were De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, who turned pro with remaining eligibility. They accounted for 120 of Virginia’s 184 made 3-pointers last season.
Clark had more 3-pointers in 2018-19, 13, than any of the other returnees.
Not in uniform for the Cavaliers on Wednesday night was 7-foot, 244-pound redshirt freshman Francisco Caffaro, who has a knee problem but did not appear to be in great discomfort as he walked around during warm-ups.
James Madison visits Virginia at 6 p.m. Sunday for the Cavaliers’ home opener.