Luckily for SU, Terrance Roberts kept pace by scoring 9 early points of his own, helping the Orange stay within striking distance of the visiting team. But sloppy play [9 turnovers for Syracuse in the first half] undermined the home team's cause.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim angrily called a timeout at the 13:24 mark to chew his team out for their lack of focus, and when the Orange broke the huddle, they began playing with more purposeful intensity. On the defensive end, Syracuse switched to an aggressive man-to-man that totally disrupted the Wildcats's offensive continuity. On the opposite side of the floor, Syracuse responded with a 18-4 run that erased the Villanova lead, and put the home team up 29-23. Spearheading the resurgent Orange attack was prolific shooting Demetris Nichols.
Perhaps inspired by his battle with Sumpter for the Big East Conference's scoring title, the 6-8 senior from Boston scored 15 consecutive points over the next five minutes, nailing five long jumpers [three of which were from three point range], enabling the ‘Cuse to extend their lead out to 7 points. Unfortunately, Villanova responded with a 7-0 run of their own that knotted the score late in the half. A Watkins free throw gave the Orange a 1 point lead, and after the Syracuse defenders forced a miss, Paul Harris found a wide open Andy Rautins in the corner for a three point shot that extended the Syracuse lead to four and allowed the home team to enter the locker room with a bit more breathing room, leading 38-34.
Villanova came out firing in the second half, quickly scoring on a Sumpter jump shot. But Nichols responded with a three point shot of his own seconds later that brought the Carrier Dome crowd to life. It was all downhill from that point for the Wildcats. With Roberts and Watkins dominating the paint and Nichols shooting with pinpoint accuracy from the perimeter, Syracuse sprinted out to an insurmountable 16 point lead.
The Villanova defense that had been so formidable early on was repeatedly shredded by the Syracuse backcourt, leading to easy run outs and easy scoring opportunities in transition. An Eric Devendorf three point play at the 4:53 mark—ironically the first points of the day for the prolific guard from Bay City, Michigan—gave the Orange their biggest lead of the day, 68-51.
Villanova tried to speed up the tempo by attacking the Syracuse zone, but the Orange held fast, forcing a plethora of missed shots and Villanova turnovers. The bigger, more athletic Syracuse frontcourt also dominated on the glass, finishing the game with a decisive 37-24 advantage on the glass.
Mike Nardi's scored the games final points, registering an unguarded / uncontested layup with 12 second remaining in the game, and Josh Wright dribbled out the clock, giving Syracuse a 75-64 victory.
Next up for the 14-4 [3-1] Orange: Cincinnati Bearcats, Wednesday, January 17th, at the Carrier Dome. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 PM EST.
Co-players of the game: Syracuse seniors Demetris Nichols and Terrance Roberts.
Nichols was en fuego throughout the game, scoring 23 points for the game on a net-torching 8-12 from the field, including a scintillating 5-6 from three point range.
Roberts was spectacular in all phases of the game, scoring 17 points [on 6-9 shooting] while hauling in 14 caroms and dishing out 4 assists. Roberts's solid play even extended over to the charity stripe, where he connected on a perfect 5-5.
Notes: Syracuse University honored former player Rony Seikaly by retiring his jersey in a halftime ceremony. Amongst Seikaly's many collegiate accomplishments, he was perhaps best known for helping to lead Syracuse to the 1987 NCAA men's basketball championship game…Point guard Josh Wright had a dichotomous game. He broke the relentless Villanova full court pressure easily without turning the ball over, but poor decisions in the open floor led to several unnecessary turnovers, marring an otherwise solid performance from the junior from Utica…Sophomore Andy Rautins drilled a trio of three point shots en route to registering 11 points…Freshman Paul Harris had his lowest scoring game [0 points] of the season, but provided much needed contributions handling the ball and on the backboards…the Orange offense was magnificent in all phases except for turnovers [SU finished with 17]. Even so, Syracuse shot a blistering 57.1% from the field, including 52.9% from three point range, and 78.3% from the free throw line. On the opposite side of the floor, the Syracuse defenders held Villanova to a meager 37.3% from the floor, including an anemic 32% from three point range.