But early on it didn't seem like SU would be in a position to tie. Five minutes in, the Wildcats held a one point lead. But then Villanova went on a 10-0 scoring run to go ahead 20-9. ‘Nova's Dwayne Anderson buried his third trey of the game to match the Orange's scoring output during the run.
Guards Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins got the Orange going, combining for eleven points as Rautins knocked two shots from downtown. But the Wildcats still led by seven and kept it there until three minutes remained in the first half.
That's when Flynn drained a three-pointer to cut the deficit to two. It was the closest the Orange had been since it trailed 10-9. But Syracuse couldn't close the gap any further as Villanova's Dante Cunningham scored a couple baskets to keep ‘Nova on top 46-40 at the half.
The Orange overcame a slow start and hung tough with the Wildcats. Paul Harris paced the ‘Cuse with thirteen first half points. He was very aggressive and attacked the basket while Devendorf showed off his mid-range jumper to score ten. Overall, both teams were making nearly 55 percent of their shots and it was a battle on every possession.
Villanova took control coming out of the locker room, pushing its lead to double digits and playing superb defense. Syracuse missed its first five shots of the second half and took almost three minutes to score its first basket. But it was the start of the most impressive stretch of the game for SU.
Over the course of the next four minutes, the ‘Cuse outscored ‘Nova 19-7 to take the lead. Rautins' second straight three-pointer help SU regain the edge for the first time since it led 2-0. But the advantage was short-lived. Less than two minutes later, Anderson hit another three for Villanova to take back the lead at 62-59.
An immediate timeout by head coach Jim Boeheim couldn't stop the Wildcats momentum. Villanova once again opened up the game with an 11-0 scoring run, and again Anderson capped it off with another trifecta.
With a little more than six minutes to go, a Flynn three-pointer brought the Orange to within three. But a few minutes later and the Wildcats were back up by nine and it looked like the game was wrapped up. But Syracuse had one last push in the closing minutes.
After four made free throws made the score 80-75, the Orange used its full court press to create turnovers. It worked as Villanova turned the ball over four times in the final two minutes of play. But on two occasions, Rautins had great looks from the perimeter and couldn't knock down the big shot. After a missed free throw by the Wildcats, Syracuse had an opportunity to tie the game. Syracuse missed all four shots from beyond the arc, including Flynn who had the best chance to send the game into overtime.
Some other observations from Syracuse's 89-86 loss to Villanova:
·The Wildcats have become a thorn in the side of the Orange. Every year it seems to come down to these two teams. And the last couple of seasons Villanova has made the NCAA Tournament while Syracuse hasn't. With a sweep of the Orange, ‘Nova all but solidified its spot in the Big Dance. While the ‘Cuse are most likely in, this would've put them over the top. Now it has got to wait until Tuesday to get win number twenty.
·It's easy to look at Syracuse's 39 percent shooting in the second half and say that was the difference. But the reason ‘Nova came out on top was because the Orange had no inside presence whatsoever. After a week of rest, Arinze Onuaku was very ineffective, scoring only four points and bringing down two rebounds. Rick Jackson struggled even more on offense, scoring only two points, those from the charity stripe. SU needs the inside game to compliment the threats from the outside.
·The one person that did give the Orange a little boost in the paint was Kristof Ongenaet. He's been big for the ‘Cuse and it was no different today. The Belgian made all three shots from the floor for seven points and collected a team-high eleven boards.
·Syracuse put four players in double-figures, Devo leading the way with 22 points. Harris was right behind him with 21 while Rautins scored 18, all on three-pointers. Flynn scored twelve and dished out eight assists, but he struggled mightily. The point guard shot 5-of-17 from the field, and just didn't look like his normal self. He seemed to force the action too many times and lost his footing a lot during this game. Not to mention, the fact that he looked odd playing without his trademark headband in the second half.
Syracuse (19-8, 7-7 Big East) has dropped six of its last eight games. It travels to New York City on Tuesday to take on St. John's at 7:30 p.m.