Harris Leads Syracuse Over Slumping 'Cats

The Syracuse Orange found themselves in a deep hole early on thanks to turnovers and the hot shooting Villanova Wildcats, but two kids from Niagra Falls and a Belgian import came up big for the 'Cuse as they stormed back and dominated the final 30 minutes of play in an 87-73 road win at the Wachovia Center on Saturday

Paul Harris and Jonny Flynn combined for 52 points to lead the Orange, together making big shot after big shot. Both Niagra Falls products managed to get into the lane and attack the rim, with Flynn making several acrobatic shots and Harris muscling it up and in and also drawing fouls on the Villanova defense on his way to a 12-of-16 performance from the free throw line.

Kristof Ongenaet also came up with some big plays, making several crucial buckets down the stretch during a career day in which he scored 12 points and pulled down five boards. Donte' Greene hit three first half threes to spark the Syracuse comeback and grabbed some clutch rebounds in the second half on his way to 17 points and a game-high eight boards.

Villanova got out to as good of a start as Jay Wright could have hoped for, hitting 11 of their first 12 shots thanks to great ball movement by the Wildcat players and poor defense on the part of the Orange. Corey Fisher scored five points in the games opening minutes as the Wildcats went ahead 10-4 with less than three minutes elapsed.

Six straight points from Flynn cut it to a 14-12 Wildcat lead with 13:50 to go in the first, but Fisher responded with his second triple to boost Nova's lead back to 17-12. Villanova took advantage of some sloppy ballhandling by Syracuse over the next two minutes, with Casiem Drummond converting a three point play and throwing down a dunk to push it to an 11 point game at 24-13 with 11:35 to go.

Harris flushed one of his own to momentarily cut it back to single digits, but Corey Stokes scored to make it 26-15, and after a Harris three point play Dante Cunningham got loose on the baseline for a dunk to keep it a double digit lead at 28-18 with 10:05 remaining before the break.

However, that's when things started to turn in Syracuse's favor, with Greene drilling a deep three to cut it to a 28-21 game. Drummond got a tip in to keep it at a seven point lead at 31-24 with 7:28 left, but back-to-back triples from Greene and Flynn cut it to a one point game and sparked a 15-0 run over the next three minutes to give Syracuse a 39-31 lead.

The Wildcats cut back into the lead and narrowed the margin to three on a controversial tip dunk by Drummond, but Rick Jackson collected an offensive board and laid it in before the buzzer to send Jim Boeheim's squad into the locker room with a 44-39 lead.

The first 10 minutes of the game saw Villanova execute flawlessly on offense while the Orange struggled on both ends of the floor, failing to rotate and help defensively and performing poorly in the half court on offense. During the last part of the half though, the Orange started to show much better defensive rotation, closing down passing lanes and creating Villanova turnovers leading to fast break points. Behind the strong play of Flynn the Orange began to attack the basket, opening up the perimeter for Greene's threes that sparked their big run.

While the momentum clearly turned in Syracuse's favor during the latter stages of the half, early on in the second the Wildcats showed that they were not out of it yet, as Fisher and Scottie Reynolds got the Nova offense back on track and helped them cut it to a one point game at 50-49 by the time the first TV timeout rolled around.

The margin wouldn't remain that small for long though, as Ongenaet and Harris combined to score eight points during a 10-2 Syracuse run to make it 60-51 with 10:08 to play. Fisher started to take over offensively for the Wildcats, hitting a pair of threes and two free throws to cut it to a 66-60 Syracuse lead, but with the shot clock expiring on the next Orange possession Ongenaet buried just his second trey of the season to push it back to a 69-60 lead with 7:31 on the clock.

Fisher tried his best to keep things close, hitting 5-of-6 from deep on his way to 21 points, but got little help from his teammates down the stretch as the Orange dominated the glass and tightened up defensively. Syracuse also managed to get all of the big buckets to drop, while the Wildcats, who opened the game so hot offensively, remained ice cold.

Harris completed a three point play and scored another layup to get the Syracuse lead out to 75-63, and while the Wildcats managed to cut it to single digits twice more they were never able to get it back under eight the rest of the way. Nine Syracuse free throws and a jumper by Flynn sealed it for Syracuse, who avenged their home loss to the Wildcats with the 14 point victory.

Harris scored a career best 30 in the win to go along with six boards and three assists, and Flynn scored 22. Perhaps the only troubling part of either players games today were the turnovers, with Flynn giving it away six times and Harris five, but each player made more than enough big plays when it mattered to overcome the sometimes poor job of protecting the basketball.

Today was also one of the rare days in which Greene really became a role player instead of a superstar, and the freshman phenom really seemed to embrace that job. Instead of forcing bad shots, as he has sometimes been known to do, he simply let the offense come to him and concentrated on dominating the defensive glass and jumping into passing lanes to come up with three steals. He got his 17 points, but they were probably the quietest of his young career.

Despite a few iffy plays early on from Ongenaet, the Belgian's performance in the second half was another great step in his development as a solid contributor for the Orange. As recently as the Georgetown game he was firing up tip ins and layups that would rocket off the glass, but over the past few games he's started to show a growing comfort level on offense, making some nifty reverse layups and showing no fear in attacking the hoop. He also made some great strides passing the ball today, finishing with three assists and showing serious improvement in entering the ball inside.

As far as post play goes, Arinze Onuaku was rendered ineffective despite a serious size advantage, scoring just three points and grabbing five boards. The big man attempted only one shot from the floor, and found himself on the bench for a long stretch in the second half after picking up a technical foul following some chippiness on a rebound. While he did have a size advantage over the Wildcat front line, the quickness and pesky defensive style of Villanova hindered Syracuse's ability to really get anything going through AO.

While the Orange had a tough time getting the ball to their much improved center throughout the day, the guards had little trouble slicing through the defense for baskets in the lane. The Orange dominated the paint, but in a bit of an odd stat their inside scoring was done almost exclusively from the guard position. Syracuse is at its best when Flynn is able to penetrate and create, and that was shown again in today's win.

After dominating for 75% of the game it's tough to find any negatives in this win, especially since most of those negatives came during the game's opening 10 minutes. The defense was poor early on, and the Orange were careless with the ball, but both of those problems were quickly fixed. The improvement of the Syracuse wings in their rotation and help defense from the games opening minutes to the rest of the game was tremendous, and a huge part of why the team was able to win. The team looked lazy on that end of the court early, but quickly gelled into a cohesive and disruptive defensive unit.

Syracuse dominated on the boards, winning that battle 33-20. They shot nearly 63% from the field as a team and collectively made 28-of-38 free throws. While they did do a better job of taking care of the ball down the stretch, the Orange still gave it away 18 times, a number that has to come down if they want to knock off a few more teams in the very tough stretch coming up.

In all it was a huge win for the Orange and a devastating loss for Villanova. Even with some of their silly mistakes, Paul Harris and Jonny Flynn came through in the clutch, simply willing the Orange to the victory. An effort just like this one will be needed if Syracuse is going to take down a red hot Connecticut team coming fresh off of an upset victory on the road at Pittsburgh.

With the way this team is developing and improving in all of the little areas of the game, the young guns will only get more consistent and efforts like the last 30 minutes of today's game will start to become the norm for Jim Boeheim's club.

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