Syracuse came into the contest having lost its last three road games, and the lack of confidence clearly showed early on. With the score tied at two, Villanova went on a 10-0 scoring run. The last four points coming from Dante Cunningham who would have a monster game for Nova.
Baskets were few and far between for the Orange as almost nine minutes elapsed between SU's first and second field goals of the game. The Wildcats capitalized as SU struggled on offense. With the score 15-9, ‘Nova outscored the Orange 16-4 as the ‘Cuse could not stop anything the Wildcats did. At one point Villanova drove the full length of the court for an easy layup as Syracuse defenders had their backs to the ball-handler and he blew right past them.
The only person making baskets for the Orange was Rick Jackson. The sophomore made five of Syracuse's nine baskets in the first half. He accounted for all of SU's four field goals until Paul Harris drained a three-pointer with a little more than four minutes left in the half.
Even with the atrocious offense and defense and trailing by twenty, SU made a 9-2 run in the final two minutes to pull within 13 of the Wildcats. But absolutely atrocious decision-making by Paul Harris (waiting until three seconds left to pop off a tough three), followed with a bad foul by Kristof Ongenaet with a tenth of a second left allowed Villanova to head to the locker room with a 53-38 lead.
Along with Jackson's twelve points, the only thing keeping the Orange in the game was its free throw shooting. Yes, the 299th ranked free throw shooting team in the nation sank 17-of-25 from the charity stripe.
Villanova came out of the break with five quick points to build its lead back up to 20. But then the Orange buckled down and played its best basketball of the game. The ‘Cuse scored the next ten points of the game, six from Eric Devendorf and the last four from Jonny Flynn, to make the score 58-48 with more than 16 minutes remaining.
But that's as close as the Orange would come for the rest of the afternoon. The Wildcats recovered from that run by outscoring SU 13-3 to hold its biggest lead of the game at 80-59 with a little over nine minutes to go.
The Wildcats' advantage would hover just over fifteen points for the next few minutes, but the Orange came knocking once more. The ‘Cuse drained three shots from beyond the arc on three consecutive possessions to cut the deficit to 11 with just under five minutes left.
Once again SU could not trim the lead to single-digits and allowed ‘Nova to pull away for an important Big East victory.
Some other observations from Syracuse's 102-85 loss at Villanova:
- What is it about playing on the road for SU? The last four times the Orange have traveled away from home, it's been absolutely man-handled by the opponent. Not counting the six point loss at Providence, SU's lost by an average of 16 points. When the Orange gets down, the players seem to drop their heads and play with a lack of confidence. That doesn't bode well for Wednesday's match-up with top ranked UConn.
- The differences in the game were turnovers and shooting percentage. In the first half, Syracuse committed thirteen turnovers which allowed Villanova to build an early lead. That lead grew larger and larger as the Wildcats shot at a 55 percent clip from the floor. The Orange made only 38 percent of its field goals, and only made nine shots in the first half.
- Nova's Scottie Reynolds had a quiet game (10 points), but senior Dante Cunningham was magnificent. The forward tied a career-high with 31 points on 12-of-15 shooting, and pulled down ten rebounds for a double-double. Cunningham has really improved his game, especially his mid-range jump shot which he hit consistently against the Orange.
- For the third straight game, Flynn and Devendorf carried the offensive burden for SU. The two combined to score 43 points with Flynn also dishing out eight assist. Devendorf turned the ball over seven times though, accounting for almost half of the Orange's mistakes…After scoring 12 points in the first half, Rick Jackson did not have a single point after the break…Paul Harris scored 14 points, but only had five rebounds. When Harris doesn't rebound well, the team tends to struggle.
- Not many good things came out of this game, but Kristof Ongenaet should be given some credit. In seventeen minutes, the Belgian grabbed nine boards to lead the Orange (when he leads the team in boards for a game, that might be a sign to just hang ‘em up and move onto the next game) and took a few charges as well. The senior seems to have found his game again, bringing some much needed energy and hustle onto the court. Now if only his teammates played with as much intensity as he does.
- In eight previous meetings between these two squads, the team that won the battle on the glass also won the game. That was no different today as ‘Nova held a significant advantage on the boards.
- Syracuse has surrendered triple digits in its last two road games. It's the first time SU's allowed its opponent to hit the century mark twice in one season under head coach Jim Boeheim.
Syracuse (18-6, 6-5 Big East) travels to Connecticut on Wednesday to take on #1 UConn. That game airs on ESPN at 7 p.m.