Unfinished business

Villanova used hot shooting early and free throw shooting down the stretch to hand the No. 3 Orange their second consecutive loss.

Syracuse’s motto this year is “Unfinished Business.” Following an 11 point loss to No. 7 Villanova in front of the second largest on-campus crowd in NCAA history, the Orange are certainly grasping the full meaning of that phrase.

Despite a stellar game from leading scorer Kris Joseph, who returned from injury to finish with a game-high 23 points, the Orange failed to take advantage of multiple opportunities against the Wildcats. Villanova was in control nearly the entire game, and pulled away late for an 83-72 victory.

Photo: Alex Pines
Syracuse Head Coach Jim Boeheim argues with a referee over a call late in the second half.

“We played two teams this week that I think are legitimate top five or six teams in the country, and we weren’t good enough,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said. “We’re just not good enough right now … We’re still looking for some answers.”

In the first half, the Orange certainly had no answer for Maalik Wayns, and basically the rest of the Wildcats’ offense. Wayns tallied 17 points in the opening stanza on 6-of-7 shooting, and Villanova shot 56 percent as a team, including a ridiculous 62 percent (8-of-13) from beyond the arc.

Syracuse, meanwhile, struggled in the first half, shooting only 37 percent from the floor.

“As a group we didn’t play well,” sophomore Brandon Triche said. “Maalik Wayns had 17 points in the first half, he almost had more points than the whole guard group in the first half by himself. Our guys had to match their guards and we didn’t.”

Though Triche finished the game with 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting, SU’s guards as a unit had one of their worst games of the season. Veteran Scoop Jardine and freshman Dion Waiters combined to shoot 3-of-20, and struggled to contain Villanova’s experienced guards on the defensive end.

“I thought our point guard play was not good today, we can’t win with that kind of play,” Boeheim said. “We have to get better leadership at that position and we didn’t get it today. The point guards were trying to score more than they were trying to get the team into sets. It’s disappointing. Some of the turnovers were bad.”

Despite trailing by 11 at the half and as many as 14 early in the second period, the Orange did battle back. Multiple times, Syracuse would cut the Wildcat’s lead to single digits, but Villanova would always have an answer.

“Nova made some tough shots in the beginning, but I think our energy in the zone when we’re bouncing and we’re moving and we’re helping each other, it makes a different game,” Jardine said. “In the second half, that’s what happened.”

Though the Orange played much better in the second half, it looked like the Wildcats were going to escape the Dome with a victory without too much of a fight. That’s when Joseph took over. The sharp-shooting Canadian sparked the Cuse’s best run of the second half with less than four minutes to play.

The SU push culminated when Joseph forced Nova guard Corey Fisher to turn the ball over and finished the fast break with a two-handed slam, pulling the Orange within four, 69-65, and bringing the Carrier Dome crowd to its feet.

“I don’t think a lot of people can guard me, to be honest with you,” Joseph said after the game. “If they’re bigger, I can go past them, and if they’re smaller I can rise up and shoot over them. That’s just the mentality I came into this game with.”

Continuing with the theme of the night though, the Orange were unable to finish their business yet again. Turnovers and ill-advised shots down the stretch doomed Syracuse as Villanova was able to pull away for the victory.

“We had stops, but we weren’t able to capitalize on some of them,” Triche said. “They got tip-in’s from guys just running in, I think we tipped one in their basket. Even when we got it down to four, we just couldn’t hit that one shot or get that one stop to break that barrier.”

Luckily for the Orange, they won’t have much time to dwell on their first losing streak of the season. Seton Hall comes to town Tuesday night, and the Pirates gave Syracuse all it could handle just a couple of weeks ago.

Joseph said Syracuse just needs to focus, execute, and get back to its fundamentals.

“That’s just mental toughness,” he said. “Sometimes it’s caused by fatigue, and sometimes it’s just miscommunication. What we’re going to have to do in the future is just be a little more sharp.”


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