Syracuse starts slow, but comes back to beat Villanova

In a highly anticipated ACC-Big East match-up, Trevor Cooney, Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair carried the Orange to its biggest victory of the season.

For the first 10 minutes of Saturday's game, No. 2 Syracuse (12-0) did not look like the second-best team in the country. Slow and sloppy, SU was out of sync on both ends of the court and the Orange even managed to accumulate seven team fouls in only seven minutes.

Photo: Lenny Christopher
Syracuse senior C.J. Fair (#5) takes it to the basket over Villanova. Syracuse beat Villanova 78-62 in the Carrier Dome on Dec 28, 2013.

The No. 8 ranked Wildcats (11-1), on the other hand, came out swinging.

Villanova started out strong, playing a quick and clean game. The smaller but more agile Wildcat offense skirted Syracuse’s famously tall, zone defense, and four out of 'Nova's first five baskets were three-pointers.

Outside the three-point line as well as in the paint, Villanova consistently beat Syracuse to the ball, and at the same time they slowed down the pace of the game, putting the Orange –- a team that often relies on its speed and lightning-fast turnovers –- at a significant disadvantage.

With about 10 minutes left in the first half, Villanova had built up a staggering 25-10 lead over Syracuse. However, after a heroic three-pointer by sophomore Trevor Cooney, the crowd (which was 28,135 strong—the largest on-campus crowd of the season so far) got energized, the Orange began shaking off their massive deficit and the momentum shifted.

As the clock wound down in the first half, the Orange started to pick up the pace -- from quick turnovers to remarkable rebounds, SU finally started to hit its stride.

Freshman Tyler Ennis executed a number of successful drives to the basket, Cooney hit several (five by the game's end) three-pointers, and senior C.J. Fair performed well from the free throw line.

Moreover, as they feverishly stepped up their offensive game, the Orange also locked down defensively, stopping the Wildcats in their tracks.

Those plays on offense and defense allowed the Orange to complete an almost unimaginable run –- scoring 20 straight points in just over six minutes, giving SU a hard-earned two-point lead.

The Orange continued to grow their lead, closing the half strong with a 38-34 lead into the break.

The second half of the game, not unlike the first, started off slowly. Villanova scored first in the second half, but the Orange were much quicker to respond the this time around. With 16:29 minutes on the clock, Syracuse increased its lead over Villanova to 47-37.

But the Wildcats didn’t give up. James Bell finished the game with an impressive 25 points before ultimately fouling out. But Bell’s high scoring wasn’t enough to overcome SU’s lead and depth. Cooney finished the game with 21 points, Ennis added 20 and Fair contributed a solid 17 points to help the Orange defend its undefeated status.

Coach Jim Boeheim praised both Cooney and Ennis for their spectacular performance in Saturday’s game, claiming they were the difference-makers in the game. 

“You’re down 25-10 that’s a big hole,” Boeheim said. “The way we responded, I thought was tremendous."

In the end, Syracuse got off to a slow and rocky start, but as the game progressed the Orange pulled together and remained tough through the game’s final minutes – which ultimately led to the team’s biggest win of the season to date.

Syracuse stays at home next week and play Eastern Michigan at 3 p.m. Tuesday afternoon.

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