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Villanova Wildcats squeeze Syracuse Orange in the Big Apple, 67-53

Syracuse hung tough, but could not handle Villanova on the glass as the Wildcats outlasted the Orange, 67-53, in Madison Square Garden.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Syracuse Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

In one of the stranger Villanova games of recent memory, Villanova took care of business against the Syracuse Orange, 67-53, in the Jimmy V Classic. The Orange hung tough with the Wildcats for much of the game, but Villanova’s dominance of the offensive glass and timely shot making propelled the team to their fourth victory in a row.

The ‘Cats finished the night setting a new school record in threes attempted with 50 (!), but hit just 13 and shot just 32.5% overall.

Meanwhile, Villanova bludgeoned the Orange on the glass, outrebounding Syracuse by 21 (!!) and generating 25 second chance points.

The opening pace was frenetic as both teams traded buckets in a flurry of action. Villanova created numerous good looks through penetration drive-and-kicks, but the Orange countered by making their first four shots and taking it the Wildcats in mismatches. Villanova struggled to stop Syracuse at the outset, but were able to force several turnovers and hit some threes to keep things close.

Around the 12-minute mark the game started to slow as both teams cooled down from the perimeter and struggled to get to the rim. Villanova could not buy a three, but kept Syracuse within arms-reach with some stingy interior defense. ‘Cuse, meanwhile, played with tremendous intensity, making effort plays all over the court and beating Villanova with their hustle for much of the half.

At the under-four timeout, Villanova were just one for their last 16, but only trailed by four points. The ‘Cats seemed to raise their intensity on the defensive end and on the glass even as shots refused to go down. Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree gave Villanova valuable minutes off the bench and kept the ‘Cats close, grabbing six rebounds and drawing two fouls in the half. However, Syracuse looked the part of a team that could hang with the Wildcats, as they swarmed Villanova ballhandlers and made athletic plays all over the court. As the half wound down, both teams traded blows but Syracuse went into the half leading Villanova 29-26 in a low-scoring, intense affair.

Collin Gillespie opened the second half canning big three and the Cats quickly drew level with the Orange, taking the lead shortly thereafter on a step-back from Justin Moore. It was evident immediately that the game plan had evolved for the Wildcats, who were suddenly looking inside much more, even pulling off some nifty big-to-big passing down low to generate easy layups.

Syracuse would not go down easy though. After the under-16 timeout the Orange came out hot and retook the lead on a dunk and-one. ‘Cuse continued to exploit size matchups where they could, primarily through Buddy Boeheim post ups and Joe Girard isolations. Syracuse briefly retook the lead before Collin Gillespie fired home a much needed three that came off Villanova’s 18th offensive rebound. The Cats would go on to snag 27 offensive rebounds on the night, an almost unfathomable number for a team that played no player over 6’9”.

A beautifully drawn up play coming out of the under-12 timeout generated a wide open three for Justin Moore and gave Villanova a four point lead with 10 minutes to play. The threes started to go down from there, as Gillespie and Samuels both connected to fuel a 12-2 run and open up an eight point lead with just under eight to play.

With the game still hanging in the balance, Eric Dixon snagged a huge offensive rebound and put-back to extend the Wildcat lead. Collin Gillespie followed up that big play with a backcourt steal, feeding Jermaine Samuels for a massive slam that nearly tore the roof off of MSG. Samuels, who struggled mightily in a spot-up role in the first half, looked much better in the second as he played inside the Syracuse zone.

“I was just trying to make plays for my teammates,” Samuels told reporters after the game. “Their zone is very lanky and they cover spots really fast. I was trying to be a threat and face the basket and try to make plays.”

Samuels finished the game with 13 points on just 5-16 shooting, but added 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and two blocks to round out his full box score.

With three minutes remaining Syracuse went to the full court press as the Orange attempted to take the Wildcats out of their offensive rhythm. However, it was too little too late for the Orange, who could not handle Villanova’s defensive intensity down the stretch. Justin Moore shook Joe Girard and nailed a long two before Collin Gillespie found Caleb Daniels for a wide open corner three to give Villanova their largest lead of the night, a lead that would become the 67-53 final score for the evening.

Justin Moore led Villanova in scoring with 18 points, adding 6 rebounds and 2 assists while generating a plus/minus of +20. Gillespie added 14 points and Daniels chipped in 11 off the bench. The Wildcats had six players grab six rebounds or more, and Caleb Daniels and Jermaine Samuels each snagging four offensive rebounds.

Buddy Boeheim led all scorers with 21 points on 10-19 shooting. Villanova transfer Cole Swider grabbed 12 rebounds, but struggled from the field, hitting just 2-7 shots for 5 points.

Villanova travels to Baylor on Sunday to play the #2 ranked Bears to close out their non-conference schedule.