The Carrier Dome was packed. Both teams entered the game undefeated and highly ranked. Although this was the first "out of conference" meeting for Villanova and Syracuse, the game had an air of its classic rivalry. Unfortunately Syracuse got the best of its former Big East rival.
Villanova lost a tough game to the Orangemen by a score of 78-62. Syracuse's stingy zone defense, play in the paint, and athleticism proved to be too much for the Wildcats to handle. Villanova earned a commanding 25-7 lead to begin the game, riding four 3-pointers from James Bell. But Villanova would not score again until Syracuse had a lead. And Nova did not lead in the game again.
The #8 team in the country came out shooting extremely well, beginning 5 of 6 from downtown. However the lead was doomed to collapse with Nova failing to diversify its point production. The Wildcats hit just 1 of their next 9 three point shots.
Meanwhile, Trevor Cooney came alive after missing his first 2 shots. Cooney boosted Syracuse to a 20-0 run to make the tally 27-25. He only missed 2 more shots in the game, including free throws. He finished with 21 points.
Syracuse did not look back after gaining the lead. The Wildcats flirted with a comeback, even coming within 3 points of the Orangemen at 7:02 remaining. But Syracuse always found a way to keep the lead.
The Wildcats were led by James Bell's career-high 25 points and 6 rebounds. Josh Hart was the only other player to reach double digit scoring with 10 points. All other players were held below 7 points. JayVaughn Pinkston, Dylan Ennis, and Darrun Hilliard all posted season-lows for scoring, although Hilliard notched 6 assists.
Syracuse benefitted from terrific play from point guard Tyler Ennis, who contributed 20 points, 2 assists, and no turnovers. C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant chipped in 17 and 11 points respectively, along with 6 rebounds each.
Syracuse's zone stymied their old rival's offense, leaving players to take poor isolated shots. Villanova passed around the top of the zone for the first 10 to 20 seconds of the possession, and players too often launched the first open shot they found. Villanova only converted 38% of their field goals, 32% of 3-point field goals, and 63% of foul shots.
Interior offense was unproductive as well. Daniel Ochefu sat the entire first half after picking up 2 fouls early, and size quickly became an issue. James Bell, Kris Jenkins, and the rest of the forwards took turns in the middle of the zone on offense. Besides Bell, none of them were terribly successful at opening up the paint for themselves or teammates. The length of Jerami Grant and Rakeem Christmas altered nearly every interior shot.
The silver lining is that Villanova competed with Syracuse, the #2 team in the country, during a fairly bad and uncharacteristic performance. This was largely a 2 possession game most of the way, with the final score being inflated by last minute fouling. Moreover, Villanova will most likely avoid another zone defense for the rest of the season.
How will Villanova's squad respond to their first loss of the season? Will Jay have them ready for conference play on January 31, or will the Wildcats enter 2014 with 2 losses? Villanova takes the court next when they open their conference schedule against Butler January 31 at 7:30 PM.
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