Syracuse Basketball: Top observations as 'Cuse beats Virginia Tech in must-win game

Syracuse basketball, to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive, had to beat Virginia Tech at home, and that's what 'Cuse did.
Syracuse basketball, to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive, had to beat Virginia Tech at home, and that's what 'Cuse did. / Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse basketball, on Tuesday night, notched a win that it needed to have.

Playing its final game at the JMA Wireless Dome during the 2023-24 regular season, the Orange battled a Virginia Tech team that is highly efficient on offense and, like the 'Cuse, is fighting to make its way onto the bubble for this spring's NCAA Tournament.

In the first half, the Orange was fantastic on both ends of the floor, racing out to a 45-27 advantage after 20 minutes had come and gone. The 'Cuse, which nearly squandered a 29-point, first-half lead last Saturday afternoon before hanging on to beat Notre Dame, saw its edge over the Hokies diminish on Tuesday evening, and many fans became nervous, myself included.

However, Syracuse basketball remained in control and scored an 84-71 victory versus Virginia Tech (15-13, 7-10 in the ACC) on the Hill. This result amounts to a quadrant-two success for the Orange and keeps its 2024 Big Dance hopes alive.

The 'Cuse (19-10, 10-8 in the ACC) closes out the 2023-24 regular season with a strong 14-2 record at home. Syracuse basketball has won three straight and five of its past seven Atlantic Coast Conference encounters.

My top observations as Syracuse basketball defeats Virginia Tech by 13 points at the Dome.

•During the ESPNU broadcast on Tuesday night, ESPN's resident bracketologist, Joe Lunardi, characterized this Orange-Hokies contest, regarding March Madness, as a play-out game for the loser and a keep-alive game for the winner. That sounds about right. If the 'Cuse, short of winning the ACC Tournament next month in Washington D.C., wants to significantly enter the conversation for an at-large berth to the upcoming NCAA Tournament, Syracuse basketball had to beat Virginia Tech, and SU must take care of Louisville on the road this Saturday. Then, in the 2023-24 regular-season finale on March 5, the Orange will play at Clemson in a quadrant-one opportunity for SU. If Syracuse basketball can stun the Tigers and former 'Cuse guard Joe Girard III, I believe the Orange will be in a solid position to hear its name called on Selection Sunday.

•In the triumph over Virginia Tech, sophomore point guard Judah Mintz was all kinds of awesome. He produced 29 points, six assists, three rebounds and three steals, while connecting on 10-of-17 from the field and 8-of-8 from the free-throw line.

Sophomore guard J.J. Starling was solid, finishing with 13 points, six boards, five assists, one block and one steal. He was 6-of-11 from the field.

Sophomore big man Maliq Brown did what he usually does. He had 12 points on 6-of-7 from the field, to go along with eight rebounds, two assists and two steals. Mr. Reliable.

Sophomore wing Justin Taylor had another nice performance. He was 2-of-2 from the field, generating six points and six rebounds. Redshirt sophomore guard Kyle Cuffe Jr. gave the Orange a quick burst in the first half, scoring five points. He also had two rebounds and one steal.

•Sophomore wing Quadir Copeland finished with 12 points on 5-of-9 from the field. He also had four assists, two rebounds and one steal.

•Syracuse basketball hit on 57 percent from the field, 31 percent from deep and 12-of-12 from the charity stripe, where the 'Cuse scored nine more points than the Hokies. Virginia Tech made 49 percent from the field and 30 percent from beyond the arc.

•The Orange prevailed on the glass, 31-27. In other statistical categories, Syracuse basketball led 18-14 in assists, 10-7 in turnovers forced, 17-14 in bench points, 3-1 in blocks, 11-4 in fast-break points, 8-4 in steals, 18-9 in points off turnovers, and 54-50 in paint points. The Hokies led 9-7 in second-chance points.

•The 'Cuse moved to 13-7 in its all-time series with Virginia Tech.

•Up next, Syracuse basketball will head to the KFC Yum! Center to square off against Louisville on Saturday, March 2. The tip-off is scheduled for 8 pm, with television coverage on the ACC Network.

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