Before the game began, the fan base was treated to a moving ceremony in honor of SU's lone senior, and the last link to the 2003 National Championship, the wildly popular McNamara. Announcer Ian Eagle summed it up when he characterized GMac as "an impact player from day one."
It took several minutes for the crowd of 33,633—an all time NCAA on campus attendance record—to settle down from the pregame festivities. Unfortunately, it took the Orange even longer to reign in their emotions, as Villanova jumped out to a quick 12-1 lead after hitting four straight three point shots. Shades of the January 21 st game all over again. Syracuse finally converted a basket after a Terrance Roberts finished off a fast break alley oop nearly three minutes into the game. After a Kyle Lowry steal on a lazy pass gave Villanova a 14-3 lead, Devendorf nailed a three point shot and got fouled. He completed a four point play to cut the lead to 14-7.
Then, things got a bit chippy. First, Villanova freshman Shane Clark drilled Syracuse forward Demetris Nichols with an elbow in the face. Then, after Syracuse forced a defensive shot clock violation and a Villanova travel in back to back defensive series, Devendorf went nose-to-nose with Lowry. Game on.
GMac got on the board after hitting a driving lay-up at the 14:00 minute mark, and the crowd exploded when SU forced another traveling violation on the Wildcats in the ensuing possession. Devendorf again had to be separated from Lowry, and from there he let his game do the talking, taking the smaller player inside and finishing a driving left-handed lay-up that cut the lead to 14-11.
Moments later, Devendorf drilled a three point shot that tied the score at 14-14. After the poor start, Devendorf's shot capped a 13-3 Syracuse run that tied the score. Syracuse took the lead at the 10:30 mark on a Nichols jumper from straight away, and Roberts further extended the lead after converting a point blank lay-up moments later.
After trading baskets, Villanova took a 23-22 lead sandwiching back-to-back three point shots around another Nichols jumper. But the Wildcats fouled Josh Wright at the 7:38 mark, putting the Orange in the bonus. The momentum was seemingly on the Orange's side as Wright stepped to the line, but after missing the second free throw, Wright committed a silly foul that sent Villanova to the line.
McNamara hit his first three pointer of the game at the 6:33 mark. The shot from NBA three point range gave us a two-point advantage, and quickly resulted in a Nova timeout. Watkins picked up his third foul shortly thereafter, forcing Arinze Onuaku off of the bench. Onuaku had a flurry of plays in quick sequence. First, he converted a putback tip in at the 5:50 mark, finishing off a wild driving shot from Roberts. He then forced a Lowry turnover after the dynamic Wildcat over penetrated and found himself without anywhere to go.
SU came down looking to extend it's lead, and was rewarded with three free throws after McNamara got hammered on a three point shot. GMac missed the first, but nailed the next two, giving SU a four point lead at the 5:22 mark. The roof seemed to come off of the Carrier Dome as the hometown fans exploded, rooting their team on.
Unfortunately, this was the last time that Syracuse would have a lead in the game. The beginning of the end occurred on the next possession, when Eric Devendorf picked up his third foul, relegating him to the bench. Without Devendorf's ability to initiate the team's half court sets, the Syracuse offense stagnated, and the Wildcats took advantage.
Villanova promptly went on an 11-0 run that gave the bad guys a seven-point lead and forced an SU timeout. The Dome fell silent as the fans watched the 32-28 lead quickly evaporate into a 39-32 deficit. Sadly, the run coincided with Devendorf's absence—which gave a spark to Villanova.
Syracuse's offense remained cold for the rest of the half, which enabled Villanova to stretch the lead to double digits before Syracuse cut it to 8 after Roberts finished with a finger roll on an SU fast break. Villanova played for the final shot of the half, but solid Syracuse defense forced a turnover and prevented the Wildcats from adding to their lead.
Syracuse got on the board first in the second half after Darryl Watkins scored on a driving baseline lay-up, where he used the rim to protect the ball. It was Watkins's first basket of the game—and the beginning of a strong second half for the junior center. Unfortunately, Watkins picked up a foul on the next defensive possession—his fourth. Worse, he yielded a traditional three-point play to the lone Villanova big man, Will Sheridan, which put the Wildcats back up by 9 points.
Syracuse cut the lead to 48-43 after Roberts finished a power move down low, and after a Villanova jumper, Watkins threw down a pair of vicious dunks that again cut the lead to five. Watkins strong play extended to the defensive side of the ball, when he first forced a Villanova miss, then snared the carom and drew an over the back foul on the rebound.
But after the Orange were unable to convert, Villanova drilled a three point shot after a wild sequence where both teams turned the ball over repeatedly. On the ensuing possession, Syracuse made another unforced turnover, leading to a breakaway Villanova three point play after GMac chased the play down and committed a frustration foul. Just like that, the Wildcats were back up by 11 points.
McNamara got the lead to single digits again by hitting a pair of free throws, but over the next several minutes, SU could not close the gap. Villanova was content to trade baskets over the next several minutes, and the lead fluctuated between 9 and 11 points. But the Orange had one final push left in them, and Syracuse cut the lead to 6 after Devendorf hit a pair of free throws and McNamara drilled another three.
After a Villanova basket, another three pointer from Devendorf cut the lead to 5, but Watkins fouled out on the ensuing possession, ending his night at the 10:27 mark. The big man had left his mark on the second half, but now the Orange were forced to try to win without him. Matt Gorman entered the game at this critical juncture, and played the rest of the way.
Roberts cut the lead to 4 after outbattling several Villanova players for several offensive rebounds, but Villanova quickly stretched the lead back to 9 with a 5-0 run. After another Devendorf free throw, Gorman scored on a fast break to cut the lead to 70-64. And after a Villanova timeout, Devendorf cut the lead to 4 on a beautiful driving bank shot.
Nova missed their next shot, but the offensive rebound was corralled by their shortest player [Lowry], who then drew a three point play on a bad foul by Louie McCroskey. After the free throw, the score was 73-66 at the 6:11 mark. After a Syracuse make, Randy Foye drilled a three pointer, extending the Villanova lead back to 9.
SU tried to make another run, but clearly the Orange were running out of time, chances, and opportunities to close the gap. After powering inside and drawing a foul, Roberts missed both free throws. The Orange were bailed out when Nichols snared the offensive rebound after the second miss…but after DNic converted only 1 of 2, it was becoming clear that the Orange were simply not capitalizing on their rapidly dwindling opportunities.
With the lead now at 8 points, Foye calmly knocked down a step back tree pointer that extended the Villanova lead back to double digits at the 5:00 minute mark. Mike Nardi tacked on another three 45 seconds later to give Nova an 81-69 lead.
But McNamara would not quit. Sensing the urgency of the situation, GMac drilled a pair of three pointers around a Villanova dunk to cut the lead back to 8. After forcing a Lowry traveling violation on the next possession, Su was unable to capitalize when Nichols missed a three and Roberts committed a foul chasing the rebound. Foye missed the front end of the one and one, and McNamara drilled another three, but it was too little to late. Lowry answered with a driving floater that made the lead 7. After an SU miss on the next possession, Nichols grabbed the offensive rebound and seemed to get fouled, but there was no call and his wild shot drew nothing but air. Syracuse was forced to commit a foul to stop the clock. The end result of this trip to the free throw line was an 87-78 Villanova lead with 2:24 left to play.
GMac responded with a pair of free throws to keep it close, but after SU forced a Villanova miss, the Wildcats hauled in yet another offensive rebound, which allowed them to continue to run clock. In a game full of missed opportunities for the Orange, this play was the capper.
SU came up empty on it's next two possessions and was forced to continue fouling in order to stop the clock. And although Foye [90% free throw shooter for the season] missed three out of his next four attempts, Syracuse was unable to get any closer.
McNamara registered the last Syracuse points after converting a driving layup at the 1:20 mark. In fact, McNamara scored the last 15 Syracuse points in the game, but his strong efforts weren't enough to overcome the powerful Villanova offensive attack.
Resigned to his team's fate, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim removed McNamara from he game with 46 seconds left to go, a curtain call which drew a standing ovation from the disappointed crowd. Despite the game's outcome, the crowd remained on their feet to express appreciation for McNamara's accomplishments in a Syracuse uniform. In total, GMac concluded his final game at the Carrier Dome having tallied 29 points and 8 assists.
The Villanova players exercised class at the end, dribbling out the clock en route to closing out a 92-82 victory over the Orange, who now face an uphill battle to qualify for the NCAA tournament.
I really liked the competitive fire that I saw from the Syracuse players today. The team played with a collective intensity that had been altogether lacking for most of the season. Unfortunately, the team was done in by a pair of all too familiar problems—unforced turnovers and poor free throw shooting.
If the team can continue to play with this level of intensity, then they have a chance to score an important win in the first round of the Big East Tournament. Otherwise, the team will likely fall short in their bid to return to "March Madness," just as they fell short of knocking off Villanova today.