SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Jayden Gardner scored 17 points and made a jumper near the foul line in the final minute as No. 6 Virginia withstood a second-half surge by Syracuse to win its seventh straight game, 67-62 on Monday night.
Gardner, a fifth-year senior, drew a charge for the fifth foul on Syracuse big man Jesse Edwards with 1 minute left, then converted the shot with 37 seconds remaining to put the Cavaliers (17-3, 9-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) up by four.
“You got to have a shooter’s mentality,” Gardner said. “I missed a good look on the baseline so I made up for it on defense and finished the game off. I was hoping (for the charge). If he called a block that would’ve been demoralizing.”
Kihei Clark and Armaan Franklin each scored 12 points for Virginia, which completed a sweep of Syracuse and moved within one game of ACC-leading Clemson.
Judah Mintz scored 20 points and Edwards had 14 for Syracuse (13-10, 6-6), which has lost four of five.
Virginia twice led by eight points early in the first half, the biggest advantage for either team. The Cavaliers went ahead 46-39 early in the second half before Syracuse went on a 12-0 run that included a three-point play by Mintz, a 3-pointer and three free throws by Chris Bell, and a three-point play by Edwards.
“In the first half we got off to a good start defensively and made a lot of shots, then Syracuse really took it to us. They just got the ball in the paint at will, scored over the top. We looked a bit lifeless,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “We weren’t flying around and scrapping the way you have to on the road or in any ACC game. In the second half we got more aggressive, flew around, played even a little harder offensively with cuts and offensive rebounds, and then it was just a game of ebbs and flows. We just had to stay the course.
“This is how it is,” he added. “You get everybody’s best shot.”
Franklin helped rally the Cavaliers, making consecutive 3s for a 57-54 lead. Clark contributed a 3 with 3:10 remaining and two free throws with 2:35 left to give Virginia a six-point advantage.
The Cavaliers had a quick turnaround, flying to Syracuse on Sunday night after beating Boston College at home a day earlier.
“I think our tired legs showed,” Gardner said, “but we found a way to win. Not every game is going to be a blowout. This was a grind-it-out game so it’s good to come up with another way to win. This is a good experience so in March we’ll know what to do with it.”
Syracuse closed within two points late, but Edwards’ offensive foul cost the Orange a change to tie the game.
The Orange shot 50% against Virginia’s typically stout defense but went just 3 of 15 from 3-point range and 11 of 18 (61.1%) from the free-throw line. Meantime, Virginia shot 9 of 21 (42.9%) from long range and had success feeding Gardner in the post for easy baskets against Syracuse’s zone.
“We played easily the best game we played all year,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “We had a lot of wide-open shots. You’re not going to beat Virginia if you shoot 3 of 15 from 3. If we made our free throws, we win.
“They beat us like they beat everybody else.”
Virginia: The Cavaliers haven’t lost since a 68-65 defeat at Pittsburgh on Jan. 3, and their current streak began with a 73-66 win over Syracuse. This is Bennett’s deepest team since the 2018-19 squad that won the national title, thanks in part to big contributions from freshmen Isaac McKneely and Ryan Dunn.
Syracuse: Boeheim’s Orange have been shaky on their home floor, going 3-3 at the cavernous JMA Wireless Dome in ACC play.
Syracuse sophomore forward Benny Williams, a former five-star recruit, did not attend the game. He lost his starting role Saturday at Virginia Tech to freshman Malik Brown, who started his second straight game against the Cavaliers. Boeheim said Williams was taking a “personal day” and would be back at practice Tuesday.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts watched the game from a courtside seat, a day after he led his team to the Super Bowl with a 31-7 win over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC title game.
Virginia: At Virginia Tech on Saturday.
Syracuse: At Boston College on Saturday.