It was the game the college basketball world was waiting for this weekend. It was supposed to be the undercard, the opening act for the Louisville-Kentucky game that would follow it. Instead, it became the main attraction. Syracuse announced that at least 30,000 tickets were sold at the Carrier Dome. It was a game all about pride. For Villanova, it was about beating an old rival, proving doubters wrong, and representing the Big East so that it is something worth talking about. Also of course, remaining undefeated. At a smaller level, there was the pride that came along with sibling rivalry, you don’t want to lose to your little brother, and Dylan knows that. Off the court, the Ennis brothers root for each other and support each other but for 40 minutes they were enemies on opposing sides of the court. For Syracuse, they get a chance to avenge their loss from the last time they met their rival, and they get to say good riddance to a conference that they left. The ACC is on cruise control, while the Big East tries to find its footing.
Villanova came into the Carrier Dome on a mission. They came bursting out of the gate, following the lead of James Bell to a 25-7 lead. The Wildcats began the game a perfect 4 for 4 from three point range, three of those coming from Bell. Syracuse’s famous zone defense did not have an answer for the Wildcats’ offense. Everyone was getting a piece of the action, getting involved, and doing their part. Villanova’s great ball movement early and playmaking dismantled the zone. On defense, the Wildcats were all over the place and C.J. Fair and the rest of the Orange were frustrated. Villanova was not giving them any easy shots, getting in the face and minds of their opponent. Syracuse may have had the size advantage but Villanova played with heart and energy that it did not matter. Then with 10:45 remaining in the first half, a Trevor Cooney three pointer would begin to change the direction of the game. Cooney was kept in check for a while, until he was able to make the three. Syracuse would go on an 18-0 run to take the lead for the first time in the game. During this run, Cooney would score eight of the 18 points. The Carrier Dome was full of life again, the crowd was back in it and Syracuse found their cool. Villanova went about seven minutes without making a basket until Dylan Ennis broke the dry spell with a mid range jumper. The big play of the first half was JayVaughn Pinkston’s buzzer beating “alley oop” three pointer as the shot clock expired with 1:00 remaining. It was the final basket for Villanova in the first half. Syracuse would take a 38-34 lead into the half.
James Bell would start the second half the same way the first half started, with a three pointer. It would bring the Wildcats within one point of the Orange, but that would be as close as they would get. Villanova’s overall game could not find the tempo and rhythm that they had to open up the game. The defense fell apart to Tyler Ennis, Cooney, and Fair. The trio scored over half of Syracuse’s second half points and were a big problem for Villanova all game long. Tyler Ennis had some nice drives to the hoop and finished with 20 points. Fair had some big plays, but his play of the game was off of a 360 spin move for a layup. On offense, Villanova couldn’t get a big run going to launch them back into the game. However, they would work their way into shortening the deficit to three in thanks to a Daniel Ochefu foul shot. However, Cooney had other plans, making a three pointer to kill momentum and giving Syracuse a six point lead with 6:45 remaining. Cooney would finish with 21 points, including 5 three-pointers. James Bell scored 14 of Villanova’s 28 second half points, before fouling out. Bell was the high scorer of the game with 25 points. He also had five rebounds and an assist to go with his performance. For Villanova, most of the offensive production came through Bell. The only other player to score double digits was Josh Hart. Hart had 10 points, including two threes.
The game was closer than the final score indicates. Villanova hung in for as long as they could until the late game fouls and empty handed trips allowed Syracuse to increase their lead. Tyler Ennis scored the final point at the free throw line, making it 78-62. Villanova takes their first loss of the season. There’s a lot of basketball left to be played, they will learn and move on from the loss. As for now, Syracuse wins the battle, but the war is not over as the two will meet again next season when Syracuse comes to town.
Villanova will continue their road trip and open up conference play at Butler on New Year’s Eve. Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m.