Foul finish: Syracuse squanders late lead, loses to Villanova in OT

A disastrous turnover in the closing seconds gives the Wildcats an opening to capitalize.

After his final shot attempt bounced off the rim and onto the floor, Trevor Cooney looked toward the Syracuse bench and tried to cleanse his body of all frustration with a forceful F-bomb. 

It was the vexation of making the right plays for more than 39 minutes and being on the verge of a statement victory over a ranked opponent, only to see it slip away in the final 17 seconds of regulation time. 

Down five points in the closing moments, No. 7 Villanova rallied to force overtime with the aid of a crucial Orange turnover on the game’s penultimate inbounds play. The Wildcats immediately took their first lead in overtime and didn’t look back, pulling away to an improbable 82-77 win at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday afternoon. 

“It was a great effort, but at the end of the game for whatever reason, we couldn’t get the ball inbounds down there,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said. “It really came down to that one play. We didn’t get it inbounds, and that’s what happens sometimes in those situations.” 

Even after Josh Hart nailed a wide-open triple to cut SU’s lead to a pair with 11 seconds left in regulation, the Orange (6-4) appeared to have control of the game. 

That changed in the blink of an eye, though, as Michael Gbinije stood along the baseline with no timeouts and little room to pass the rock. 

He sent the ball in the direction of Rakeem Christmas, but it wound up in the hands of Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono instead. The latter sent a bounce pass to JayVaughn Pinkston, who drove to the cylinder for the tying lay-up. 

The play happened so fast that Cooney could only remember the deafening roar of the crowd that ensued. 

“I was breaking to the ball and got tripped,” Cooney said. “We panicked. We gotta get the ball in. It’s just something that happens in sports, and you can’t describe it.” 

Prior to those frantic moments, SU had followed the formula for stealing a road victory against a ranked team. 

It jumped out to a big lead by converting on 17 of 27 attempts from the floor in the first half, including a trio of three-pointers by Cooney. Even as Villanova (11-0) mounted a charge, the defense was able to keep the lead by forcing seven turnovers in the latter frame. 

Freshman point guard Kaleb Joseph was assertive driving to the basket, and the Orange made its free throws as the Wildcats repeatedly squandered their chances at the charity stripe. 

“They’re unbelievable defensively, and we were able to score a lot of points on them,” Cooney said. “We were able to run our stuff and get in lanes and make plays. We have to realize that we can do that, and we can do that against other teams every single night that we play.” 

SU even managed to keep its core lineup on the floor as three starters (Chris McCullough, Gbinije and Christmas) played with four fouls apiece. 

But once overtime arrived, everything unraveled. All three fouled out during the extra session, leaving the Orange defenseless as Villanova attacked the basket. The Wildcats made 11 foul shots in the extra session to coast to victory. 

Pinkston led all players with 25 points and 10 rebounds, both season highs

Joseph played all 45 minutes and set a new personal best with 10 assists. He was also one of five Syracuse players in double figures, but that scoring balance was ultimately not enough to help bolster the Orange’s NCAA Tournament résumé with a signature win. 

The Orange will get its first chance to rebound against Colgate on Monday, although both Cooney and Joseph said the team should already be confident after hanging with one of the country’s best teams. 

“This is a top-10 ranked team. That’s a game we easily could have won,” Joseph said. “It comes down to one or two plays, so I think guys know that we can play with anyone.”

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