By Joseph Santoliquito
SYRACUSE, NY (CBS) — Ryan Arcidiacono faked a shot at the top of the key and Syracuse’s Michael Gbinije bit, crashing down on the Villanova sophomore’s shoulder. Gbinije spilled head over heels over Arcidiacono and they both hit the floor in a heap of tangled arms and legs.
That typified the scrap between No. 8 Villanova and No. 2 Syracuse, a pair of undefeated former Big East rivals, on Saturday at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.
A strong Wildcats’ start, opening an 18-point lead in the first 10 minutes, turned into a stumble, when Syracuse’s superior size took over and handed Villanova its first defeat this season, 78-62.
Villanova, which began the day with its best start since 1961-62, dropped to 11-1 while Syracuse, beginning play for the first time in the ACC this season, improved to 12-0.
The Orangemen did it with great balance, led by 20 points from freshman guard Tyler Ennis, the younger brother of Villanova sophomore guard Dylan Ennis, Trevor Cooney’s 18 and 17 from senior forward C.J. Fair.
Villanova was led by a game-high 25 points from senior guard James Bell and 10 from freshman guard Josh Hart.
The Wildcats jumped Syracuse early, forging a 20-5 lead with 12:31 to play in the first half. Villanova rotated the ball extremely well, got good looks and Syracuse’s vaunted zone defense had problems catching the open shooters.
With 10:56 left in the half, a Hart slam off an assist from Arcidiacono made it 25-7—the largest deficit Syracuse faced this season.
And just when all seemed right, just when it appeared the Wildcats seemed on their way to a special afternoon in December—and their third victory this season over a ranked team, and second over a top-10 team—the Orangemen landed with a thud.
Syracuse went on a 20-0 tear that transformed a confident Villanova team into a skittish, hesitant squad that couldn’t do anything right. The Orangemen eventually upped their run to 26-2, giving them a 33-27 lead that they would never relinquish.
The Wildcats went 6:46 without scoring a point, from the hart dunk at 10:56 to a Dylan Ennis jumper with 4:10 left. In that span, Villanova went cold, going 0-for-9 and turning the ball over four times.
Villanova, relying highly on its perimeter game, finished making 10 of 31 from three-point range (32-percent), while Syracuse hit on 7-of-13 (53-percent) from beyond the arc. But it was the size factor that did in the Wildcats.
Syracuse went to the line 35 times and converted a season-high 29 free throws. At one juncture, when the game was still competitive, Syracuse had outscored Villanova 21-6 in the paint.