It was more of the same for the No. 1 ranked Syracuse basketball team Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa. Their opponent, Villanova, struggled to score efficiently from deep and Syracuse effectively used its depth, length and athleticism to its favor. The end result was a dominant 79-66 victory that was never in question.
Sophomore guard and Philadelphia native Dion Waiters scored a game-high 20 points in front of friends, family and a fairly quiet crowd.
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” Waiters said with a grin. “To go out there and play the way I did in front of everybody who watched me grow up as a kid. I just gave them what they came to see.”
Junior forward James Southerland added 15 points in a relatively balanced effort that featured eight Orange players who scored at least five points.
The Orange was at its most dominant during a 20-2 spurt in the first half to jump out to what became an insurmountable lead. Up against the aggressive and long Orange zone, the Wildcats became victim to multiple thunderous transition dunks, many of which started with one of Villanova's 14 turnovers.
On the night the Wildcats were only able to convert 32 percent of their shots from the field (20-of-61).
“They’re [Syracuse] just a little bit more physically mature,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright explained after the game.
Physical maturity was only the beginning of the Wildcats problems. The Orange successfully focused its zone on junior guard Malik Wayns, the Wildcats leading scorer. Wayns, who entered the game averaging over 17 points per contest, didn’t make a field goal the entire game and was held to three points. The Orange clogged the dribble-drive lanes and forced Wayns to shoot from deep.
“They did a great job on Malik Wayns,” Wright said.
The only speed bump that the Orange hit in the first half was foul trouble. Sophomore center Fab Melo picked up his third foul with eight minutes to go in the first half and was forced to the bench. Fellow sophomore, Baye Moussa Keita, however, filled the hole in the middle of the zone admirably. Keita led the Orange with a season-high 7 rebounds to go along with 2 blocks and 2 points.
“Baye came in and did a great job,” said Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim.
The second half was smooth sailing for Syracuse. The Orange didn’t play with the same urgency as it did in the first half, but the lead was too much to overcome for Villanova. Each time the Wildcats would cut the edge to 11 or 13, the Orange would respond with a run of its own.
“We played so well the first half that we had enough margin for error,” Boeheim said.
Waiters is not the only Syracuse player who calls Philadelphia his home. Senior guard Scoop Jardine and freshman forward Rakeem Christmas are also from the “City of Brotherly Love.” Jardine was also especially thankful to return to his former stomping grounds.
“Being able perform in front of my family and friends who don’t get the chance to come up to Syracuse is a great opportunity for me,” he said.
After seeing a strong homecoming performance by Jardine and Waiters, and the Orange’s hounding zone and perpetual depth, Wright had the same realization that many college basketball fans have already had this season.
“They’re [Syracuse] a very good team,” Wright said.