Two nights removed from a lackluster performance at home against Rutgers, Syracuse responded with what may have been its best win to date. The Orange played one of their best defensive games of the season to upset No. 14 Villanova Monday, 69-64.
Led by a trio of Philadelphia-born players, the Orange used a smothering defense and caused the Wildcats to miss 16 of their first 17 field goal attempts – including a drought of nearly nine minutes early in the game. As a team, Villanova was held to 32 percent from the field and a dismal 19 percent (5-of-26) from 3-point range.
“In Syracuse, we just let them have too many open 3’s, I thought we did a much better job here,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said. “They missed some, and that’s what happens, some games you make them. We’ll take a little credit for pushing up on them better and making them drive.”
Syracuse was led by Scoop Jardine who finished with a team-high 20 points to go along with six assists. Senior Rick Jackson also had a big game for the Orange as he poured in 18 points to go along with five rebounds and four blocks. Freshman Dion Waiters was the final piece of the Philadelphia puzzle. Playing his most meaningful minutes in weeks, Waiters chipped in seven points off the bench in 18 minutes of action.
“The difference was obviously the Philly guys,” Boeheim said.
Early on, it looked like this game was going to start out like so many other road games the Orange have had this season, as Villanova jumped out to a 6-0 lead. SU would respond though, reeling off nine straight points and taking their first lead on a layup by Jardine. It was a lead the Orange wouldn’t relinquish for the remainder of the game.
“I just took what they gave me. I was in transition a few times and stopped and popped, and I came off a couple of curls and got in the lane and made some shots,” Jardine said.
Despite the Wildcats long shooting drought, Syracuse was not able to really capitalize. The biggest lead the Orange had in the first half was seven, and due to some sloppy play and some interesting officiating in the final seconds of the half, that lead was trimmed to two at the break, 29-27.
The lone bright spot of the night for Villanova was the play of guard Corey Stokes. The senior had a game-high 24 points and knocked down five 3-pointers on the night. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, he seemed to be the only one.
“We did a great job containing their shooters,” Jardine said. “The first game, they made a lot of 3’s, and we knew coming into tonight that they were going to try to beat us off the dribble and try to suck us in so they could get 3’s. We did a great job.”
Similar to the first half, the second half was a back-and-forth affair. Though Syracuse opened up a nine point lead twice – the final time with nine minutes remaining – neither team owned a double-digit lead in this game.
Every time it seemed the Orange were going to break away, Villanova seemed to pull itself right back in the game. Multiple times, the Wildcats cut the deficit to a mere point, including a pair of free throws by Isaiah Armwood with 22 seconds remaining. However, whenever ‘Nova pushed, Syracuse had an answer.
“That’s just about having poise,” Jackson said. “Coming out here it’s going to be hostile, it’s going to be loud. I think we did a great job of running our stuff and just getting something out of every play.”
Down the stretch it was Syracuse – the worst free throw shooting team in the Big East – that sealed the deal at the line, not the league-leading Wildcats. Both Waiters and Jackson hit a pair of free throws in the final seconds that clinched the game for the Orange. On the night, Syracuse connected on 75 percent of its free throws (13-of-17), compared to just 63 percent (17-of-27) for Villanova.
With the win, the Orange continue to move up the conference standings. Syracuse will get another chance to move up the board Saturday when it travels to Georgetown. A win there would most likely boost SU into the top four of the standings, giving the Orange a two-game break in the upcoming conference tournament.
“I thought we played hard the whole game, we battled them. Our offense still isn’t what it needs to be, we’re making some bad mistakes,” Boeheim said. “This year, we’ve had a lot of games where when we’ve stayed in them, we’ve been able to win them. We just haven’t stayed in the games we’ve lost to have a chance at the end.”