The Orange blew out host Virginia Tech 72-52 on Tuesday, pulling away after the Hokies had drew within four points at 44-40 on a basket by Ben Emelogu with 14 minutes and 52 seconds to play in the game. From there, the Orange outscored the Hokies 28-12 to win convincingly.
C.J. Fair led four Orange players in double-figures with 17 points. Tyler Ennis added 13 while Jerami Grant (12) and Trevor Cooney (11) also contributed scoring. Grant had 10 rebounds.
In getting the win, against admittedly one of the conference’s worst teams, Syracuse succeeded where ACC title rivals Duke and North Carolina both failed over the weekend. Duke was beaten 79-77 at Notre Dame on Saturday, while North Carolina suffered a bad loss at Wake Forest on Sunday night.
Given that it’s somewhat unlikely that the Orange are going to lose a conference game at home, every road win they can get (regardless of the strength of the opponent) is one game banked toward clinching the ACC regular-season title and the top seed in the ACC Tournament. Even if Syracuse were to then be upset in the ACC Tournament, the Orange would probably have already done enough to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
As usual for Syracuse, defense and rebounding were a big part of the story in this win. Only up 35-29 at the half in front of a bit of a light crowd at Blacksburg’s Cassell Coliseum, the Orange could have tightened up when the Hokies got within four and brought a bit of life to the gym. Instead, Syracuse scored the next 16 points, pushed the margin to 20 and decisively ended the competitive portion of the contest. Syracuse dominated Virginia Tech on the glass, 41-25, including 17 offensive rebounds.
Such a response is the sign of a great team and there’s no reason to think the Orange aren’t that. Now 15-0 and 2-0 in the ACC, Syracuse survived a bit of an ugly game in its conference-opening win vs. Miami (49-44), but played on all cylinders for much of the second half Tuesday night.
Having already seen slips from Duke and North Carolina, the two teams that figured to challenge the Orange for ACC supremacy, a performance like tonight shows Syracuse’s potential to not only be the best team in the ACC, but to be the best team in the ACC by a wide margin.