Saturday afternoon, #3 Syracuse combined what was far and away their worst offensive performance of the season, shooting 33.3 percent from the floor, with their fourth-worst defensive performance of the season, allowing Villanova to connect on 42.1 percent of their shots from the field, en route to falling in overtime to in Philadelphia, 75-71. The Orange (18-2, 6-1 Big East) were lethargic at the unusual 11:00am tip-off, but rallied to take a second half lead, only to give up a very late three-pointer to the Wildcats (13-7, 4-3) that forced overtime. The extra session saw SU grab an early lead, but the hosts promptly snatched it away and held on over the final three minutes of the contest.
The first three minutes of the game suggested that Syracuse was still asleep, as the Wildcats jumped out to a 10-0 lead. The Orange quickly righted the ship, cutting into the margin with the next seven points of the game. Villanova, however, responded with a 10-2 run for the game’s first double-digit lead at 20-9 at the half’s midpoint. The Wildcats nudged the margin out to 25-13 a couple minutes later, but the SU defense clamped down, forcing the hosts to miss their next six shots and commit a pair of turnovers.
The Syracuse offense took advantage of that drought to score eight straight points to get within four with 3:30 left in the half. SU got within three at one point, but Villanova stretched the lead out to eight with 35 seconds to go. The Orange, however, got a putback basket before the horn to narrow the deficit to 32-26 at halftime.
Syracuse came out for the second half strong, posting the first seven points to grab a one-point lead. The Wildcats responded with five points of their own for a 37-33 lead. The Orange, however, bounced back with an 11-2 run to take control at 44-39 just over seven minutes into the session. SU held off Villanova for a few minutes, but the hosts eventually regained the lead at 49-47 with just over eight minutes on the clock. Shortly after, Syracuse put together another run, this time hanging a 9-1 burst on the ‘Cats, to take their biggest lead at 61-55 with under four to play. The Orange offense could do nothing for the remainder of the half, though, and the Wildcats chipped away at the lead, eventually knocking down a three-pointer in the waning seconds to force overtime at 61 a side.
Villanova scored the first two points of overtime, but SU responded with a three-point-play to go up by a point. The Wildcats, however, put a pair of triples around a Syracuse free throw to take a 69-65 lead with under two minutes to go. Three free throws over the next two possessions put the Orange within a point with 47 seconds to go, but the hosts got a basket to go up by three. Another SU free throw put them within 71-69, but the Wildcats made 4-of-6 free throws while the Orange could not connect on their end. SU got a basket just before the final horn, but it was not enough.
Brandon Triche paced the Syracuse offense with 23 points, including a trio of three-point shots. Michael Carter-Williams chipped in with 17 points. Jerami Grant added 12 points prior to fouling out. C.J. Fair and Rakeem Christmas just missed recording a double-double each, as Fair finished with ten points and nine rebounds while Christmas had nine points and ten boards.
SU returns to Pennsylvania for their next contest on Saturday when they will take on Pittsburgh. The Panthers (17-4, 5-3) have strung together four straight wins and face Louisville on Monday night for a game prior to their matchup with the Orange. It will be another early start, this time at 12 p.m. ESPN will televise the game, which will also be streamed online at ESPN3.com.Jim Stechschulte (Follow on Twitter @dsafetyguy)