Jan. 19, 2008
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - Jay Wright took a deep breath. His Villanova Wildcats had won a tough Big East game on the road, and he had trouble finding words to describe it.
"This is huge," the Villanova coach said Saturday after the 25th-ranked Wildcats escaped with an 81-71 victory over Syracuse in the raucous Carrier Dome. "A win at Syracuse is big. It's a tough place to play. We're just going to take it."
Scottie Reynolds scored 25 points and Corey Fisher added 15 as the Wildcats took advantage of the foul-plagued Orange and won for the first time on the road in three conference games. Coupled with No. 5 Georgetown's win Saturday over Notre Dame, home teams were 30-7 in the Big East.
Facing its first ranked opponent of the season, Syracuse (13-6, 3-3), with only eight scholarship players available and five of them freshmen, got into serious foul trouble for the first time this season and it proved costly.
Villanova (13-3, 3-2) trailed for much of the first half but quickly erased a 35-30 halftime deficit and began to assert control once the Orange's leading scorer, freshman Donte Greene, was called for his fourth foul with 17:04 left and the score tied at 40-all.
"Greene is athletic and can pretty much do everything," said Reynolds, who made four 3-pointers and was 9-of-10 from the free throw line. "We knew he was in foul trouble. We were trying to take it at him a little bit to see if we could get him out of there. The guys did a great job of attacking."
When center Arinze Onuaku received his fourth at 12:33 while covering Reynolds, not even the imposing crowd could save the depleted Orange, who have lost guards Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins to season-ending knee injuries.
"When they lost Greene, you're losing a big-time player," Wright said. "I think we just had more bodies, and over the course of the game that really made a difference. We knew we had to be aggressive because of all the injuries and young guys. They didn't have a lot of depth. We wanted to be aggressive attacking the rim."
Reynolds made the two free throws after Onuaku's fourth foul to give the Wildcats a 50-49 lead, Dante Cunningham followed with a layup and Shane Clark's tip-in, his only basket of the game, gave Villanova a 57-53 lead at 10:16.
Both Greene and Onuaku re-entered the game with 9:27 left and sparked a brief rally, combining for eight points before Greene fouled out with 5:25 left.
"We were coming back and emotions were coming to our side," said Greene, who finished with 12 points, seven below his average, in 23 minutes. "That fifth foul was a killer."
The Orange weren't quite finished yet.
Onuaku's follow pulled them within 66-63 with 4:59 left, eliciting a raucous cheer from the crowd of 26,494, the largest on-campus attendance in the nation this season.
The euphoria was short-lived.
Fisher hit a 3 from right wing as the shot clock was about to expire at 4:17, and Reynolds drew a foul on Paul Harris while attempting a 3 and made all three free throws for a 72-63 lead with 3:21 left.
"That was a big shot. We like to get it into the middle of the zone, get offensive rebounds and kick it out for 3s," Reynolds said of Fisher's crucial basket. "That was just part of something we do."
Jonny Flynn led Syracuse with 23 points, Scoop Jardine had 15 points and eight turnovers, Onuaku finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds, while Harris had an off-day with six points and six rebounds.
The Wildcats, who struggled to find many openings in the Syracuse zone in the first half and had three players (Clark, Pena, and Malcolm Grant) with two fouls, shot just 29 percent (9-for-31). Villanova regrouped in the second half and hit 51.9 percent (14-of-27) despite a subpar performance by Clark, who was 1-for-9.
"In the first half, they did a great job and their crowd was into it," Reynolds said. "In the second half, we just came out and played. We weren't thinking too much, just playing."
Villanova shot 39.7 percent for the game but was 8-of-23 on 3-pointers and got 31 points from its bench to only five for Syracuse.
"Having one guy go out is tough enough," said Flynn, who was 1-for-7 from beyond the arc. "But to have both of your horses down there in foul trouble, it makes things so hard. We made a lot of cheap fouls and that came back and bit us."