What used to be a major Big East battle is now something of a conference bragging rights rivalry game, but Villanova couldn’t focus on that to hold on to their early lead in the Carrier Dome, with Syracuse eventually pulling away for a very impressive 78-62 victory, remaining undefeated before beginning their conference play in the ACC for the first time.
Villanova entered the game at 11-0 with two wins over ranked teams, both on neutral grounds. They were #8 in the nation, but some were thinking about a higher place they deserve to be. Syracuse are #2 in the nation, and with a 12-0 record might be placed a bit higher in a few days. They overcame being behind by 18 points early in the game to outscore the Wildcats 71-37 from that moment, completely locking down the paint while finding it quite easy to pierce through Villanova’s armor.
There was no indication we were going to get going. They came out on fire. They kind of caught us off guard. We knew the kind of team they are. It’s hard to have a defense for the type of offense they have for the first 5 or 10 minutes.
That 18 point deficit with 11 minutes in the first half, with Syracuse unable to score a field goal in four minutes, was the largest deficit for the Orange at the Carrier Dome since trailing Seton Hall led them by 27 on Jan. 25, 2011. Still, Villanova went cold from that moment, finishing the game shooting only 38% from the field and turning the ball over 14 times.
A big difference was paint efficiency. Tyler Ennis had no problem cutting through into the paint to finish with 20 points, including 8-of-11 from the line. Trevor Cooney enjoyed the collapsing Villanova defense to hit five 3-pointers and finish with a team-high 21 points. Villanova did have a big game from James Bell, knocking down six from beyond the arc, but his 25 points were quite alone in the Villanova effort to not let the 28,135 fans in the Carrier Dome get to them.
Villanova stopped hitting shots at a ridiculous rate, while Syracuse kept things simple. The Orange attempted 53% of its field goals within 8 feet of the basket, while Villanova had only 20% of their field goal attempts being close-range shots. n such attempts, the Wildcats scored a season-low eight points, 16 fewer than the Orange.
We hit shots. When you hit shots like that, everything looks great, but you know you’re not going to shoot that percentage for the entire game. They weathered it and kept coming back at us. We had the lead and then we got sloppy. They really played at a high level. This is a tough place to play. I sensed that when we came back from break we were just a little bit off. We were in such a groove. We got a little bit better yesterday. I was hoping. In hindsight, I would have practiced on Christmas night. We slipped. They did not.
With Villanova picking up their first loss of the season, Syracuse are now one of a group of the remaining eight undefeated teams – Arizona, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Wichita State, Oregon, Iowa State and Toledo. The Orange begin their ACC era with a home game against Miami on January 4, with a game against Eastern Michigan coming before that.