Syracuse blows big lead and bows to Villanova

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Syracuse dropped its fourth game of the season

If you are interested in moral victories, there are a few to take away from Syracuse’s performance on Saturday at #7 Villanova. If you are interested in actual victories, the Orange (6-4) again leave you lacking, as they gave away a five-point lead in the final 17 seconds of regulation to drop their third game in their last four outings, this one to the Wildcats in overtime, 82-77. And, if giving away that late lead was not enough, SU led by 15 points in the first half and the game was only tied twice in regulation – at its start and with 4.2 seconds left.

Oh, but those positives. Syracuse got that 15-point first half lead by simply dominating the first half. The Orange shot 63 percent from the field in the opening session while stifling the Wildcats, holding them to a 35.3 percent shooting mark and a mere 4-of-16 for the game from three-point range. SU’s offense was very balanced on the day, getting five players into double figures in scoring.

Of course, they had to do something to lose somehow. They shot 38.2 percent from the field after halftime, including making only 2-of-7 shots in overtime. Three Syracuse players fouled out, as the team was whistled for 27 fouls. The Orange also gave up the ball 20 times and Villanova turned those turnovers into 26 points.

SU opened the game with the first two scores, as Michael Gbinije made a nice scoop to cap a drive on the first possession, then Rakeem Christmas finished with his left hand for a quick 4-0 lead. It could have been six straight points when Gbiinje set up Chris McCullough in transition, but the freshman’s dunk would not go down.

Villanova got on the board with a deuce and set up their press, but the Orange handled it easily, scoring when Gbinije buried a 16-footer off the left elbow. The Wildcats responded with a three-point-play, but Syracuse matched it when Roberson laid in an alley-oop pass from Kaleb Joseph and knocked down his foul shot, which gave SU a 9-5 lead just over three minutes into the action.

After a ‘Nova jump shot, the Orange got a pair of jumpers from the left elbow, one from Gbinije and the second from Joseph. A Wildcat three sliced into the lead, but the Orange turned a Joseph steal into two points when Gbinije made a nifty touch pass to Roberson for a jam that forced a Villanova timeout and a gave SU a 15-10 lead.

The time out did not help the hosts, as the dunk started a 14-4 Syracuse run that ended with ten straight points. Gbinije dished to Christmas for a wide open lay-in to start the streak, then stepped into a three-pointer trailing the break. Trevor Cooney liked Gbinije’s quick three so much, he buried one of his own on the next trip, then Christmas finished the hot stretch with an 18-footer at the top of the key. The last bucket gave the Orange a 27-14 lead with under eight minutes left in the half.

» Related: Boeheim confirms that all hope is lost in Syracuse

The Wildcats would string together six straight points shortly after that and Jim Boeheim called a time out to settle down SU. The ploy worked, as the ‘Cuse went on a 12-4 burst over the next 3:30 of the game. Cooney did a lot of heavy lifting during the stretch, hitting a three against the shot clock to stretch the lead back out to double digits. Cooney then set up McCullough, who was fouled and made a free throw, before burning a three from NBA range at the top of the key. Roberson finished the run with a jumper off the right baseline, pushing the Syracuse lead to 15 points at 41-26.

The Wildcats would trim three points off the margin before the break, the last two coming on a contested jump shot just before the clock ran out. SU held a 43-31 lead going into the locker room.

Fouls plagued the Orange as soon as the second half was underway. McCullough was whistled for his fourth foul eight seconds into the half and Gbinije committed his third infraction just four seconds later. Cooney helped keep SU afloat, though, hitting a floater in the lane, then making a steal and dishing to Joseph for a lay-in and a 47-33 lead with less than two minutes off the clock.

Villanova roared to life, as Darrun Hilliard dropped in eight straight points, including a pair of threes, then made a steal and dished for a lay-up to make it a 47-43 game. Roberson would end the Orange dry streak of nearly five minutes, finishing a nice drive with a short banked shot. Two possessions later, Joseph drove across the lane for a circus shot to put Syracuse in front by eight with just over eight minutes elapsed in the half.

The Wildcats posted the next five points of the game, but Joseph and Christmas worked the pick-and-roll for a dunk by the latter to put SU back in front by five. The two squads would trade markers for the next several minutes until ‘Nova got two straight successful possessions, the latter clipping the Orange lead to 61-59 with under 3:30 to play.

A couple minutes later, Gbinije made a strong drive to the bucket and finished, drawing a goaltending whistle. The deuce gave Syracuse a 63-59 lead with 1:20 on the clock. The Wildcats struck back with a three-point-play to make it a one-point game. Christmas quickly replied for SU, drawing a goaltend while getting fouled. The charity shot put the Orange in front, 66-62 with just over a minute to play.

After the ‘Cats turned it over, Syracuse masterfully drained the clock, moving the ball and driving repeatedly until Cooney found Gbinije, who was fouled with three seconds on the shot clock and 24.3 seconds on the game clock. Gbinije rattled the second foul shot home for a five-point lead. Villanova quickly scored to make it a 67-64 game.

Unable to inbound the ball, the Orange used their final time out. Cooney got the ensuing inbounds pass and was fouled. He coolly drove both shots home for a 69-64 lead with 17.2 seconds on the clock.

The Wildcats, however, drilled a three to make it a two-point game, then stole an inbounds pass, which was converted into a lay-up to knot the game at 69 a side with 4.2 seconds remaining. Syracuse inbounded and ended up with Gbinije trying a contested off-balance jumper while straddling the three-point line, and the shot missed its mark, sending the game to overtime.

The Wildcats opened the scoring of the extra session with a pair of free throws, but SU matched the score when Joseph dished off a baseline drive to Gbinije, who was cutting down the lane for two.

Shortly after that, McCullough fouled out on an over-the-back call that may have actually been him getting undercut on a rebound before crashing to the floor. The ‘Cats made the first free throw to take the lead, then secured a pair of offensive rebounds before drawing a fifth foul on Christmas. That foul was turned into two made shots at the stripe for a 74-71 lead with just over two minutes on the clock.

Gbinije got across the free throw line, elevated, and buried a jump shot while being fouled to make it a one-point game. His free throw missed, though, and Villanova converted on the other end for a 76-73 lead.

The ensuing Orange possession ended when Roberson was whistled for a questionable charge that looked to be a flop. Cooney, however, got a steal on the other end and was fouled. He buried both shots and it was a one-point ‘Nova lead again.

Gbinije committed his fifth foul on the next Wildcat possession and the free throws made it 78-75. Joseph found an open lane to the rim, but his shot was blocked. Villanova gained possession in the corner and Cooney had to foul. Two more free throws went on the board, putting the hosts up by five.

Cooney was fouled away from the ball and made both shots, clipping the margin to 80-77 with under ten seconds on the clock. The Orange fouled again and the ‘Cats connected on another pair to make it a five-point lead with seven seconds to play. Syracuse could only muster a wild three from Cooney just before the final horn and it failed to connect.

Aggressive from the opening tip, Michael Gbinije had a career game, pouring in a personal-best 18 points to go with eight rebounds, five assists, and three steals. Rakeem Christmas matched Gbinije’s 18 points to lead SU and both players had 11 points before halftime. Trevor Cooney had 17 points and buried three treys, all of those bombs coming in the first half. Tyler Roberson came off the bench to contribute 11 points and Kaleb Joseph bounced back from a poor effort against Louisiana Tech to record his first double-double with ten points and ten assists. Joseph also came up with three steals on defense.

Villanova’s offense was balanced, as well, just not as far across the stat sheet as SU’s. The Wildcats got 69 of their 82 points from three players who each eclipsed the 20-point mark. JayVaughn Pinkston earned game-high honors in a pair of stats, as he posted a 25-point, ten-rebound double-double. Darrun Hilliard had 23 points while Josh Hart poured in 21 points off the bench.

SU faces a quick turnaround, as they welcome in-state rival Colgate to the Carrier Dome on Monday night. The Red Raiders (3-8) had a modest two-game win streak snapped on Sunday when they lost at New Hampshire. Colgate employs a three-guard lineup and their top two scorers come from that guard platoon, as Damon Sherman-Newsome and Austin Tillotson combine for over 27 points a game and have made 42 threes on the season on a 41.2 percent success rate from deep. Opening tip is set for 7:00pm and ESPNU will televise the game, which can also be seen online at ESPN3.com.

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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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