CHARLOTTESVILLE — Virginia's demolition of fourth-ranked Syracuse on Saturday was startling, historic, extraordinary and emphatic, replete with indelible moments for a program basking in rare air. But one snapshot resonated above the others.
It came with less than 30 seconds remaining and the Cavaliers' first outright ACC regular-season title since 1981 long assured. And it came with nary a marquee player in sight.
This was senior Thomas Rogers, a former walk-on who in four seasons had never scored in a conference game. Never.
So there Rogers was collecting a pass from Rob Vozenilek and launching a 3-pointer from the right wing while tumbling into the first row of spectators.
Of course it swished, the final points in a 75-56 rout that had John Paul Jones Arena thundering and a Hall of Fame coach saluting.
"That's the best moment of the game," guard Malcolm Brogdon said of Rogers' shot. "It brought us all, really, great joy."
It was the best, and most telling moment, emblematic of how perfectly the second half unfolded for the 12th-ranked Cavaliers.
"I thought coming into this game watching the tapes that Virginia has been the best team in the league this year," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said, "and they proved that today. … Everybody knows they're a tremendous defensive team, but I also think they're a very good 3-point shooting team, a very good offensive team.
"You look at the scores, how they've dominated people. This is the first (time) all year we've been out of a game in the last five minutes."
Indeed, the Orange's two previous setbacks, to Boston College and Duke, were by a combined nine points, and midway through the second half, Saturday's game appeared headed for a classic finish.
But Virginia erupted during the final 11 minutes, outscoring Syracuse 33-14.
I didn't think the Cavaliers could play any better than in the second half a week ago, when they blistered Notre Dame for 40 points on 76.2-percent shooting. I was wrong.
In Saturday's second half, the Cavaliers scored 48 points on 57.7-percent shooting. They made 7-of-11 from beyond the 3-point arc and committed one turnover.
This against the a team that won its first 25 games this season to ascend to No. 1 in the polls. This against a team that ranks ninth nationally in defensive efficiency and employs a 2-3 zone that has baffled opponents for years.
Perhaps most remarkable, Virginia's outburst came with All-ACC guard Joe Harris enduring a 2-for-10 shooting afternoon in his final home game. The notion of the Cavaliers beating anyone credible, much less Syracuse, a year ago with Harris MIA was unthinkable, but this team has the balance, depth and confidence last year's squad lacked, the traits to make a deep NCAA tournament run.
Brogdon scored 17 of his career-high 19 points after intermission and also totaled five assists and five rebounds, with only one turnover. Freshman London Perrantes made both of his threes, making him 10-for-13 from long range in the last four games. And Justin Anderson, the smoothest and most confident 29-percent 3-point shooter in captivity, made 3-of-4.
Yes, Syracuse (26-3, 13-3 ACC) played the second half without Jerami Grant (back), its leading rebounder and No. 3 scorer, and yes, that helped Virginia dominate the glass 39-29. But don't dare pin this result on Grant's absence, or Orange point guard Tyler Ennis' foul issues.
The best team Saturday won, and it wasn't close.
Virginia (25-5, 16-1) is the second team to win 16 ACC games. The first, Duke in 1999, went 16-0 in the league, with a double round-robin schedule, 15 of the victories by double-digit margins. Then the Blue Devils squashed three opponents in the ACC tournament.
A loser to Connecticut in the NCAA tournament final, that Duke squad, led by Elton Brand, Trajan Langdon, William Avery and Shane Battier, ranks among the best not to win the national championship.
In a scheduling quirk that may, or may not, help their cause, the Cavaliers are off until next Sunday's regular-season finale at Maryland, where the Big Ten-bound Terps will be playing their last ACC regular-season game.
Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium is a far more renowned and aged pit for opponents, but bank on the Comcast Center being particularly venomous for the ACC farewell.
Yet this Virginia team seems impervious to such peripheral noise. Even in their lone ACC loss, down 13 in the second half at Duke, the Cavaliers never wavered and actually led in the final minute. Coach Tony Bennett is masterful at maintaining players' focus on defense and the game at hand.
He approved cutting down the nets Saturday, a celebration that might give some pause, but given where the program was he took over five years ago, why the heck not?
"We had a glimpse of success (in previous seasons)," Harris said, "but not anything that could be sustained. But we believed we could turn this thing around."
"The vision was," Bennett said, "come help us turn this program around. … When you're a part of turning something around, it's really special."