Syracuse Orange survive slow start to beat Villanova Wildcats

For the first nine minutes of their steepest test of the young season, #2 Syracuse looked like they were going to fail spectacularly. The Orange, rather, passed with flying colors by rocketing back from an early 18-point deficit and pulling away late for a 78-62 win over #8 Villanova at the Carrier Dome. The win pushed SU to a 12-0 mark on the season and gave the Wildcats their first blemish, dropping them to 11-1.

Villanova certainly offered Syracuse their assistance in the game, committing 27 fouls, and the Orange were more than happy to make them pay, burying 29-of-35 free throws (82.9 percent),

No. 2 Syracuse beat old foe No. 8 Villanova

No. 2 Syracuse beat old foe No. 8 Villanova

including 20-of-24 after halftime. The visitors also bombed away from deep relentlessly, as 31 of their 50 field goal attempts were from three-point land. After hitting their first four heaves from deep, the Wildcats mostly shot blanks, making only 6 of their final 27 tries.

Villanova dominated the game’s opening minutes, making their first four shots beyond the arc as they took a double-digit lead before the game was five minutes old. The latter two of those triples jumpstarted a streak of 11 straight points for the Wildcats that pushed their lead to 20-5. Jerami Grant broke the streak with a dunk for SU, but another ‘Nova three and a dunk of their own made it 25-7 with nine minutes off the clock.

Then, the Orange turned things around.

» Related: Instant analysis of Syracuse’s win over Villanova

Trevor Cooney hit a three, then added a pair of free throws when he was fouled trying another three. C.J. Fair threw down a putback dunk then added in a three of his own.

At that point, the SU run was ten straight points. And it was only halfway over.

Cooney bombed another three to keep things going for the Orange and after Baye Moussa Keita tapped in a miss and Tyler Ennis made a nifty lay-up, switching hands as he crossed the hoop in the air, the Syracuse run was 20-0 and the hosts held their first lead at 27-25 with just under five minutes on the clock.

The Wildcats stopped the avalanche of points with a jump shot just before the four-minute mark, ending a streak of nine straight misses from the field. The Orange were unimpressed, as Cooney splashed a deep three and Ennis made a crafty hesitation move to get to the basket for a three-point-play. After Ennis’ free throw after the under-four media timeout, SU held a 33-27 lead.

Villanova clawed back with four points, but a three by Fair and a jumper by Ennis held off the visitors. When a last second 30-footer by Ennis thudded off the back of the rim, Syracuse carried a 38-34 lead into the locker room.

The Wildcats opened the second half with a three to start the second half and get within a single point, but the Orange rang up the next nine points as Ennis made a pair of nice forays to the basket, including a shot-clock-beating scoop, and Cooney knocked down a triple that survived an officials’ review. The burst gave SU their first double-digit lead of the day at 47-37 less than four minutes into the half.

The two squads mostly traded markers for most next ten minutes, but the visitors got a couple small advantages along the way, including a pair of threes as part of a 7-2 run that got Villanova within 56-53 with seven minutes to go.

Cooney responded with his fifth three of the day to give Syracuse some breathing room, then Fair added a pair of charity shots to stretch the Orange lead to eight. Villanova again fought back, getting within 64-59 with under 3:30 on the clock.

The Orange, however, began a parade to the free throw line. SU outscored the Wildcats over the remaining minutes, 14-3, with all of the points coming from the line, save for a Grant lay-up.

» Related: Why Syracuse will be the best team of the last 5 years

In fact, Syracuse players dropped in 12-of-14 free throw attempts in that span, highlighted by Cooney making four in one trip as a result of a foul and technical foul, both called on Villanova’s Tony Chennault with just under a minute left.

The series of fouls shots was capped by Baye Moussa Keita snuffing out the last Wildcat shot of the day, causing Jay Wright to call off the dogs and await the final horn.

Trevor Cooney led the Orange offense for the second straight outing, making five threes en route to 21 points, and also had three steals. Backcourt mate Tyler Ennis dropped in 20 points while C.J. Fair added 17. Jerami Grant added 11 points and tied with Fair for game-high honors with six rebounds.

James Bell poured in 25 points for Villanova, the top mark in the game. Bell knocked down six threes along the way before fouling out. Josh Hart was the only other Wildcat in double figures, finishing the game with ten points.

Syracuse will have a pre-New Year’s Eve party on Tuesday when they welcome Eastern Michigan to the Dome. The Eagles, who are coached by former SU assistant Rob Murphy, fell to 7-4 on the season Saturday when they dropped an 82-59 decision at Duke. The loss also snapped a modest two-game win streak for Eastern Michigan, who have also played Kentucky, Purdue, and Massachusetts already this season.

Forward Karrington Ward leads EMU with 15 points and 6.2 rebounds per game while Raven Lee supports him with 12.8 points per game. Mike Talley, who averages 9.5 points per game on the season, is averaging 17 points per game in his last three outings, including scoring 20 against Duke.

The game will start at 3:00pm Eastern and be televised by ESPNU.

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Jim Stechschulte

About Jim Stechschulte

A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade, where he currently resides. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. Follow him on Twitter @DSafetyGuy.
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