SYRACUSE, N.Y. — If things had not gone Virginia’s way Wednesday in its college basketball opener, there would have been ample excuses.
None were needed.
Without three underclassmen who turned pro after Virginia’s run to the NCAA championship and while playing at one of college basketball’s most intimidating venues, the Cavaliers made easy work of perennial power Syracuse 48-34 .
It was UVa’s trademark defense that held the Orange to 23.6 percent shooting from the Carrier Dome’s floor, including 17.2 percent on 5-of-29 3-pointers.
The Cavaliers entered the game as a three-point underdog.
“That’s a tough team to play in the first game,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “We won’t play a better team defensively this year except for when we have to play them again.”
That rematch will be Jan. 11, at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville.
“You can’t get by the little kid, and [Braxton] Key is a tremendous defender,” Boeheim said.
The “little kid” to whom Boeheim was referring was 5-foot-9 sophomore Kihei Clark, who may never have another game statistically to rival what transpired before an announced crowd of 22,518.
Clark had a double-double, but it wasn’t the points-assists combination usual for a point guard. He finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds, all on the defensive boards.
While playing the entire 40 minutes, Clark also had a game-high seven assists, which matched the assist total for the entire Syracuse team.
The UVa starting lineup was not what some might have anticipated.
It had 6-foot-9 senior Mamadi Diakite, one of the heroes of last year’s NCAA championship run, and four players listed at guard: Clark, holdover Braxton Key, junior-college transfer Tomas Woldetensae and freshman Casey Morsell.
Seven-foot redshirt junior Jay Huff entered the game with 15:40 remaining in the first half and finished with his own double-double — 11 points and 12 rebounds, 10 at the defensive end — in just over 29 minutes.
“I was proud of the way I rebounded,” Huff said. “Kihei got almost as many rebounds as I did. I’d like to claim that it was thanks to me for boxing out but we’ll give it to him.
“… I’m kidding. He played phenomenal.”
Huff knew Virginia fan s would be anxious about a mostly rebuilt squad, but there aren’t many teams that play as well as the Cavaliers on the road.
“To me, the best feeling was to see the young guys play well,” Huff said. “This [Syracuse] team is no joke and this arena is no joke. So, it felt really good to beat this team specifically.”