No. 7 Syracuse rolls over Villanova
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) -- Four days earlier, freshmen Trevor Cooney, Dajuan Coleman and Jerami Grant logged a combined seven minutes and failed to score in Syracuse's win at Providence.
That is ancient history now.
Cooney punctuated a late surge with a pair of 3-pointers in less than a minute, Grant scored 13 points in 29 minutes - both season highs - and the burly, 6-foot-9, 288-pound Coleman contributed six points and a steal as the No. 7 Orange held off Villanova 72-61 on Saturday.
Forced to play his youngsters probably more than he would have liked because of circumstances, Orange coach Jim Boeheim wore a satisfied look after career victory No. 906.
"It was really the three freshmen that won the game," Boeheim said. "The three freshmen were the difference."
Along with C.J. Fair, who had a game-high 22 points and helped rescue his teammates in the second half while the Orange's top two scorers were on the bench.
Fresh from two straight wins on the road, Syracuse played without senior James Southerland, its second-leading scorer at 13.6 points per game in his key role off the bench. He is out until further notice because of an eligibility matter, the university said in a statement released just before the game.
Southerland sat in street clothes, accompanied for much of the second half by leading scorer Brandon Triche after he picked up his fourth foul.
Fair, who entered the game with three double-doubles in the previous four games, became the go-to guy, scoring 11 of the Orange's first 15 points of the second half. He broke a 34-all tie with a midrange jumper just before Triche's fourth foul, then converted a floater in the lane and sank two free throws to give Syracuse a 40-34 lead at 13:46 that it never relinquished.
Syracuse (16-1, 4-0 Big East) has won 34 straight home games, the longest active streak in the nation in Division I. Villanova (11-5, 2-1) had its seven-game winning streak snapped.
The Orange are 27-1 in regular-season play in the conference in the past year, the only setback coming at Notre Dame a year ago. Syracuse hasn't lost a Big East regular-season game at home since Georgetown beat the Orange 64-56 in February 2011.
"I thought of all our wins the last couple of years, this was the grittiest, toughest performance I think we've had," Boeheim said. "Everybody just dug in there defensively. We just kept battling away."
JayVaughn Pinkston led Villanova with 12 points, and Mouphtaou Yarou had 11 points and 14 rebounds. Freshman guard Ryan Arcidiacono had seven points, missing six of seven shots from behind the arc as Villanova shot 5 of 23 from long range. The Wildcats were unable to get inside as planned against Syracuse's 2-3 zone defense.
Villanova held a 29-27 lead at the break, a season-low halftime score for the Orange, but was unable to keep that going.
"I thought if we could have kept playing that way, we'd have a chance," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "They were taking away our inside game and kind of left us to shoot 3s and we couldn't handle it. Give them the credit. Because they're long, they have the ability to get out on shooters. We had to make a couple of those and we couldn't do it."
Syracuse trailed for much of the first half. After Triche was called for his fourth foul with 16:26 left in the second, the Orange were without their top two scorers and clinging to a 36-34 lead.
After Arcidiacono scored from the wing with 13:30 left to pull Villanova within 40-36, Michael Carter-Williams passed to Coleman for a basket off the glass after a pretty fake underneath.
The crowd of 27,586, largest of the season in the Carrier Dome, then finally had the chance to roar as Syracuse went on a 15-4 run to gain a 14-point cushion.
Coleman started the surge with a two-handed slam dunk, and Cooney finished it with two 3-pointers in a 44-second span, giving Syracuse a 61-47 lead with 5:48 left.
"It's usually a run like that that if you don't answer it, then you're playing from behind," Wright said. "We knew if we didn't answer that, it would be over. We tried, but we didn't answer."
James Bell's 3-pointer from the left corner narrowed the Syracuse lead to 64-58 with 2:03 left, but the Orange held on with some clutch free throw shooting.
In its only loss of the season, an 83-79 setback to Temple at Madison Square Garden, Syracuse missed 15 free throws. Against the Wildcats, the Orange finished 24 of 30 from the line, making 8 of 10 in the final 90 seconds. Grant, a 35.7 percent shooter from the line, finished 5 of 6.
"I was definitely more comfortable," Grant said. "I was able to get into a rhythm. It felt good playing a lot of minutes."
The game started out as a struggle on both sides. In the first five minutes, the teams combined to shoot 1 of 14, committed five turnovers and registered five blocks as Nova took a 3-2 lead. Held to 9 of 29 shooting in the opening half, Villanova wasn't much better in the second and finished 17 of 54 (31.5 percent).
"We got what we wanted the first half, but the second half we kind of went away from what our game plan was," Arcidiacono said. "We kind of just did our own thing, didn't try to stick together."