Slipping away... Orange lose to 'Cats 81-71

The Syracuse Orange fell to 3-3 in Big East play after losing to the Villanova Wildcats 81-71 on Saturday afternoon in the Carrier Dome. The Orange were doomed by a combination of careless ballhandling and poor defensive rebounding, as the Wildcats took advantage of 17 offensive rebounds en route to the 10 point victory. Freshman Jonny Flynn was valiant in defeat with 23 points.

At the end of the day, no one who watched the Syracuse Orange take on the No. 21 Villanova Wildcats could question the heart and toughness of the home team, coming back from an early deficit and never giving up down the stretch as the Wildcats began to pull away. Still, despite the solid offensive contributions from freshman backcourt mates Scoop Jardine and Jonny Flynn, the Orange were unable to overcome their 19 turnovers, many of which were unforced giveaways, and the foul trouble that plagued the thin Syracuse roster in an 81-71 loss at the Carrier Dome.

The Orange found themselves in a hole early at the hands of Nova star Scottie Reynolds, who knocked down a pair of threes as the Wildcats raced out to an early 10-3 lead heading into the first TV timeout. The lead would not last though, as the Orange got a boost from Arinze Onuaku and used their defense to create offense during a 9-0 run to take a 12-10 lead. Onuaku got things started with a dunk, and then after Flynn came up with a steal, the big guy followed up a Scoop Jardine miss with another thunderous jam.

Flynn knocked down a jumper and made 1-of-2 at the line to knot things up, and Jardine gave the Orange their first lead with a driving bucket. The two teams traded free throws to get it to a 14-13 lead in favor of the Wildcats, and after Rick Jackson and Dante Cunningham traded layups to keep it at a one point Nova lead, Flynn scored twice and Greene hit 1-of-2 from the charity stripe to give the Orange a 20-16 advantage with 7:27 left in the half.

Reynolds answered with his third triple to get the Wildcats back within one, but Scoop Jardine made four free throws and a jumper, and Flynn converted a three point play during a 12-5 run for the 'Cuse to make it 32-24 with 3:02 before the break.

Four quick points from Cunningham cut it to a 33-30 game with under two to play, but Flynn finished off the half with another layup to make it 35-30 heading into the locker room. Flynn lead the way for the Orange with 14 points in the opening half. Unfortunately, star forward Donte Greene was saddled with three first half fouls, which would come back to eventually haunt the Orange.

The lead would not hold up for very long, as the Wildcats opened the second half with an 8-2 run punctuated by a Reynolds three point play to make it 38-37 with 17:38 on the clock. Flynn answered with a three, but the next trip for the Wildcats proved to be a costly one for Syracuse, with Greene picking up his fourth foul with 17:04 on the clock on an Antonio Pena dunk to tie things at 40.

After Reynolds knocked down his fourth trey to make it 44-42 in favor of the Wildcats, the Orange scored five straight, with Jardine hitting a rare three from the top of the circle to make it 47-44 14:08. A Nova bucket cut it to a one point game but the Philly frosh once again responded by hitting a pair of free throws to get the lead back to 49-46.

However, four straight points from Reynolds and a three point play by Pena gave the Wildcats seven unanswered to make it a 53-49 edge for the visitors with just over 12 minutes left. The Orange managed to keep it close until Greene and Onuaku came back into the game with four fouls apiece, and their presence on the interior helped out immediately, with Greene scoring four straight after coming off the bench and Onuaku scoring on a putback to make it 63-59 in favor of Villanova with 6:34 to play.

Two free throws from Greene and another basket on the offensive boards by Onuaku cut it to a 66-63 Nova advantage, but Corey Fisher buried a three and Reynolds drew a foul from Paul Harris on a three point attempt and made the Orange pay by hitting all three free throws. Fisher added two free throws to push it to a 74-63 game with just over three minutes on the clock, effectively putting the game away with Greene having fouled out trying to take a charge at the 5:25 mark.

A big time slam by Harris on a feed from Flynn cut it to a seven point deficit and another dunk from Jackson made it 76-69 with 1:22 to play, but without any real three point threats on the floor the Orange simply did not have the firepower or the fouls to give in order to stop the clock and gain on the Wildcats the rest of the way.

Villanova used its advantage on the free throw line as well as from downtown to ultimately put away the Orange, hitting 27-of-39 from the stripe and 8-of-23 from deep, while the Orange struggled to find the range, making a dismal 3-of-16 from downtown.

Flynn finished with 23 points and four assists, but was just 7-of-20 from the field and 1-of-7 from deep after a hot start, and he made just 2-of-11 shots in the second half. Jardine netted 15 points, but was the primary culprit in the Syracuse turnover spree, giving it away eight times in the game.

Meanwhile, Donte Greene found himself on the bench for nearly half of the game due to foul trouble, ultimately fouling out on a questionable blocking foul just as he was beginning to make his presence felt on the offensive end of the court. Greene hit just 1-of-5 attempts from deep and finished with 12 points and four rebounds.

Onuaku recorded a double-double with 10 points and 10 boards, but like Greene was severely limited by foul trouble, allowing the Wildcats to attack the rim and crash the offensive glass more aggressively and effectively than they might have been able to had the Orange front line not been so limited by whistles. Harris had a tough day for the Orange on the offensive end, scoring just six points and struggling mightily with the ball, giving it away four times and looking shaky for much of the game, but was a stalwart on defense with six boards and four blocks, including a tremendous swat on what looked to be a sure fast break basket by Reynolds late in the game.

Reynolds, who burned the Orange late in the season last year, finished with a game-high 25 points while knocking down 4-of-7 from deep. He added six rebounds and four steals. Fisher made just 2-of-8 from the field, but hit a pair of threes at clutch moments and made 9-of-10 from the line en route to 15 points. Cunningham, who was playing with the flu, made 6-of-8 from the floor to finish with 14 points and eight boards, and Pena scored nine for the Wildcats.

As is usually the custom in games like this for the Orange, one player without much offensive prowess emerges from the bench to kill the 'Cuse, and this game that player was Dwayne Anderson, who scored nine points and grabbed six boards. Coming into the game averaging just three points per game and without a single three pointer all year, Anderson hit 2-of-3 from deep.

In the end, the game came down to execution down the stretch and who could withstand a war of attrition. The Orange, playing only seven players until walk-on Justin Thomas came on after Jardine fouled out, were whistled for 27 fouls, including 16 in the second half alone. They simply did not have the depth to overcome the team-wide foul trouble, with two starters fouling out and two others being whistled for four fouls each, and their primary substitute (Jackson) also being blown for four fouls.

The Orange turned it over five times over the final eight minutes, with a few of those giveaways coming at the worst possible times, as when Syracuse had a chance to cut it to seven with three minutes left and Jardine, who had easily sliced into the lane and had an open look from 12 feet, instead tried to thread it inside and instead threw it directly to a Villanova player.

Putting aside the foul situation, the simple reason that Villanova managed to pull away at the end was the experience on the court, which lead to much better late game execution than the young Syracuse players could manage. While Syracuse gave the ball away and missed their shots down the stretch, the Wildcats hit shots when they needed and, despite a few late turnovers, got the ball in the right people's hands and took care of business at the end of the game.

Another loss for the now 13-6 Orange, and another example of the growing pains for a young team without any depth. well as another example that Tim Higgins needs to be put out to pasture immediately.

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