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Syracuse's Offense Flops in Farewell for Christmas Against Virginia

Evan Weston

For the first ten minutes of the game, the No. 2 Virginia Cavaliers couldn't do anything against the Syracuse zone.

Hit open jumpers. Make simple passes. Or even get out of their own way.

In the final thirty minutes of the game, they couldn't be stopped. 

Even in a game when Virginia scored just two points in nearly the first 14 minutes of the game, they escaped with a comfortable victory.  The defensive-minded Cavaliers and head coach Tony Bennett shut down the Orange (18-12, 9-8 ACC) for a 59-47 win in the Carrier Dome, spoiling Rakeem Christmas' farewell tour. 

Christmas had 10 points and four rebounds, good for his 28th game this season in double-digit scoring totals.  But for the second straight game, Syracuse's bench only produced two points and another solid night from Christmas came in a loss.  His teammates' inability once again to generate consistent offense cost him on his Senior Night send off, instead sending the Cavaliers to their ninth win in a row.

"There’s a reason they’ve just lost one game," head coach Jim Boeheim said.  "I think they can beat just about anybody."

Syracuse capitalized early on with the unusually sloppy play from Virginia.  The Cavs came into the night averaging only 8.7 turnovers per game, then turned the ball over ten times by the 9:29 mark of the first half.  It wasn't enough, though, for the Orange to create much separation.  

Despite Virginia's slow shooting start and mistake-filled game, Syracuse could only expand its lead to more than ten points once in the half.    

"We got them off to a slow start," Boeheim said.  "We did get some opportunities.  We had some pretty good looks during that time. If you are going to have a chance to upset the number No. 2 team in the country, you have to be able to make those shots when they present themselves."

Eventually, the turnovers went away for the Cavs and their suffocating defense came back.  They didn't commit a single turnover in the final ten minutes of the half and held Syracuse scoreless for the last three.

Syracuse gave up the last 11 points before intermission, part of a game-changing 23-5 Cavalier run that encompassed both halves.  

The Orange finished the game with just 47 points, its second lowest total of the season and fewest in a Carrier Dome game.  The only time Syracuse's offense was worse this year was at Georgia Tech in a 46-45 win.  Syracuse narrowly avoided its lowest scoring game ever in the Dome, which came in a 57-46 defeat to Georgetown in 2013.

The loss is Syracuse's third in four games.  It guarantees that the Orange won't reach 20 wins, the first time that has happened since the 1996-97 season.

"We had plenty of chances this year to beat really good teams and we just couldn’t do it," Trevor Cooney said.  "Just came up short in some of the big games we needed to win."

For Christmas, it culminated in an anti-climactic ending to an overwhelmingly successful college career.

He watched from the bench as the final seconds ticked down and the Cavaliers walked off with their second straight regular season title.  

All he could do was solemnly walk off the Carrier Dome floor one last time in defeat.

"He was a great leader," Tyler Roberson said.  "He gave everything."