The third-ranked Cavaliers instead had forged enough of a cushion Tuesday night to compensate for sloppy ballhandling in the final minute on the way to a 68-61 triumph at John Paul Jones Arena.
Virginia (15-1, 4-0) ran its winning streak to seven and extended its best start in the ACC since 2014-15 when it began conference play with seven straight victories. It also ended a two-game slide against the Orange, which scored nine a row over 34 seconds in the final minute to get within six.
Amid full-court pressure, the Cavaliers also committed three turnovers in the last 55 seconds, but senior guard Devon Hall (13 points, eight assists) made two free throws with 25 seconds left and Kyle Guy capped the scoring with a pair of free throws with 12 seconds to go for the final margin.
"It took a little joy away at the end the way they turned us over, and we had some unforced errors, but we made our free throws," Cavaliers Coach Tony Bennett said. "We just tried to make them work. I thought we played solid but just left a little bad taste with how we turned it over at the end, but a quality win."
Guy led Virginia with 22 points, his second-highest total this season, in front of an announced crowd of 13,625. The sophomore made 5 of 11 from three-point range, and redshirt freshman De'Andre Hunter came off the bench to score 15 points for his fourth game in the past five in double figures.
The Cavaliers made 10 more free throws than Syracuse in a game in which Virginia committed just seven turnovers and survived getting outrebounded 41-31. They also made nine of a season-high 27 three-point attempts, more than half of their overall field goal attempts, and got 18 points from their reserves.
Syracuse did not have a bench player score and had only three assists on 23 made field goals.
Frank Howard led the Orange (12-5, 1-3) with 18 points, although he took 20 shots and committed seven turnovers. Oshae Brissett chipped in 16 points for Syracuse but took 15 shots.
"We've got to find a way to score some more points if we're going to be effective," Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim said. "Obviously, Virginia is a tremendous defensive team, but I thought we got into some opportunities where we had some pretty good looks at the basket. Second half we went about 0 for 10, 0 for 9 from the three-point line."
The Orange actually went 2 of 12 from beyond the arc in the second half while Virginia guard Ty Jerome, saddled with foul trouble in the first half, made all three of his three-pointers during that time.
Virginia led by 14 in the second half on the heels of a 10-2 run that began with Hall making both ends of a one-and-one and two more free throws. Senior forward Isaiah Wilkins dunked with 2:41 to play, Guy scored on a driving layup, and Hall finished the flurry with two free throws.
Hall had put Virginia in front 47-40 with 10:10 left in the second half on a three-pointer, and Guy followed with a three-pointer for a 50-42 buffer. The margin remained at eight at the under-four-minute stoppage.
Virginia led by three at halftime and leaned on three-point shooting in the second half to forge a 44-35 lead with 12:23 left. Jerome made his three three-pointers consecutively during that early burst after sitting out much of the first half with two personal fouls.
"They're a zone team, so you're going to shoot more threes than in a normal game," Guy said. "Coach wanted us, if he had it his way, we probably would have attacked the gaps a little bit more, but me and Ty hit a couple threes so we just sort of, not settled, but we were feeling it."
The Cavaliers entered the game with dispiriting memories of recent collapses against Syracuse. Last season, Virginia led by a dozen at halftime at the Carrier Dome before the Orange surged early in the second half to rally for a 66-62 triumph.
But the most infamous implosion unfolded during the 2016 NCAA tournament region final in Chicago when the Cavaliers led by 15 with 9:33 left in the second half. In a desperation move, Boeheim deployed a full-court press that sped up Virginia, forcing missed shots and fatigue that allowed the Orange to complete an improbable comeback, 68-62.
This season's version of Syracuse lacks depth and experience. Among players in the regular rotation, six of eight are either freshmen or sophomores, and none is a senior. Thus Boeheim has three players — Tyus Battle, Brissett and Howard — who rank Nos. 1-3 in minutes played in the conference.
"Getting wins in the ACC and being able to capitalize on that and finish games out is a big part of what we hone in on and focus in on in practice," Hall said. "Being able to finish games is going to be big for us down the stretch, too."