#7 Syracuse got a strong second half performance at the Carrier Dome to bounce Villanova on Saturday afternoon, 72-61. The Orange (16-1, 4-0 Big East) shot 54.6 from the floor and 81.8 percent from the free throw line to outscore the Wildcats (11-5, 2-1) by 13 points in the second half to pull out the victory.
SU put forth a strong defensive effort throughout the game, holding the guests to a 31.5 percent success rate on their shots and forcing 16 turnovers. Syracuse was without senior forward James Southerland, as it was announced prior to tip-off that he would be ineligible indefinitely, but would not give a reason, citing student privacy laws.
The Orange got off to a very poor start on offense, needing over three minutes to put a mark on the scoreboard and over four minutes to get a field goal. In spite of their sluggish start in the scoring column, SU stayed in the contest with tough defense, even taking a 9-8 lead on a free throw just past the midpoint of the opening half. Villanova, however, scored on their next three trips to grab a 14-9 lead.
With under eight minutes on the clock, the Syracuse offense got going, posting the next six points, capped by a Jerami Grant put-back dunk that got the Carrier Dome crowd involved in the game. After a pair of Wildcat free throws, the Orange tacked on four more points to take a 19-16 lead. Villanova came back, using an 8-2 run to regain control at 27-24, then held a 29-27 lead at halftime.
The Wildcats scored the first two points after the break, but SU struck back with seven unanswered points for a 34-31 lead. After a Villanova three erased the margin, Syracuse tallied the next six points to take a lead they would not relinquish.
The visitors worked the margin down to a single point less than nine minutes into the half, but the Orange ran off another seven straight points in just over two minutes for a 51-43 lead. The Wildcats scored four points to threaten the lead, but SU went on a 10-0 burst capped by a pair of Trevor Cooney three-pointers for a 61-47 lead with less than six minutes on the clock. Villanova ran off seven straight points to make it a contest late, but Syracuse made 8-of-10 free throws in the final 90 seconds to hold on for the win.
C.J. Fair posted his second straight effort of more than 20 points, this time leading SU with 22 points, and blocked four shots for the second consecutive game. Jerami Grant, who received extended minutes with James Southerland unavailable, dropped in a career-high 13 points. Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche each chipped in ten points, the former also collecting three steals.
The Orange have a week off to prepare for their next game, a Saturday contest at #3 Louisville. The Cardinals (15-1, 3-0) have won ten straight games and have a contest at Monday night before welcoming SU. The game will start at 4:00pm and will be televised by ESPN.Jim Stechschulte (Follow on Twitter @dsafetyguy)