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No. 2 Syracuse Hands Wildcats First Loss in 78-62 Decision
James Bell
 
James Bell
 

Dec. 28, 2013

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. - In a duel of teams ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll, No. 2 ranked Syracuse overcame a fast start by Villanova and pulled away in the home stretch to post a 78-62 victory over the No. 8 ranked Wildcats in a non-conference battle played before a crowd of 28,135 at the Carrier Dome today. VU saw its season-opening 11-game winning streak snapped as the Orange improved to 12-0 overall.

James Bell paced the Wildcats with 25 points, which tied a career high in that category established earlier this month at Saint Joseph's. The trio of forward C.J. Fair and guards Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney did the most offensive damage for the Orange. Cooney tallied 21 points while Ennis contributed 20 points and Fair added 17 of his own.

"They have got a really good team," stated Villanova head coach Jay Wright of the Orange.

Wright said he detected soon after Villanova returned to campus from its Christmas break that the Wildcats were not as sharp as they had been before departing earlier.

"I just sensed we weren't as sharp when we came back as we were before we left," Wright stated. "We were playing really well and the first day back at practice (Thursday) I sensed we were a little off. (Syracuse) came back playing really well."

In the early stages of the contest it appeared Villanova had picked up right where it left of in posting a series of 20-point plus victories over Saint Joseph's, La Salle and Rider prior to the holiday. The Wildcats dropped in four early 3-pointers and seemed to grab hold of the game.

"We hit shots and you felt like everything was great," noted Wright. "But as coaches you know you aren't going to shoot that way all game."

As he did against Rider last week at the Pavilion, Bell helped insure that the Wildcats started quickly. The senior sank the contest's first basket and proceeded to drain two more 3-point baskets before the contest was five minutes old. Toss in another long range make by Darrun Hilliard and it helped contribute to a 15-5 Villanova advantage with 14:57 remaining in the first period.

Villanova kept the heat on the Orange early with the contribution from its bench. Freshman Josh Hart contributed seven points in that stretch and the lead grew to 25-7 with under 10 minutes to play in the half.

The Orange responded with an 18-0 run sparked by 3-pointers from C.J. Fair and Cooney to pull even with the Cats at 25 with 5:36 on the first half clock. The Orange grabbed the lead at 27-25 on a Tyler Ennis drive and score a short while later. Dylan Ennis snapped the SU spurt with a jumper.

"They really weathered the storm," stated Wright. "That's what good teams do. We certainly did not play our best game but Syracuse had a lot to do with that."

At the halftime break Syracuse took a 38-34 lead into the locker room. Bell led the Wildcats with 11 points while Fair and Cooney each had 11 points for the Orange. VU connected on .440 of its first half field goal attempts and was 6-of-16 from beyond the 3-point arc. The Orange were 12-of-28 (.429) from the floor and 5-of-9 (.556) from distance in the period.

Bell helped draw the Wildcats back to within 38-37 on the opening possession of the second half before Syracuse snapped off the next 10 points to craft their largest lead of the afternoon to that point, 47-37 with 16:29 to go in the period.

The Wildcats pulled back to within 56-53 after another 3-pointer by Bell with just under seven minutes to go in the contest. But Cooney answered with a long three of his own and the Orange followed that with a pair of free throws to pad their advantage to 61-53.

Villanova could not make the final push against the 2-3 Orange zone, though, and Syracuse steadily pulled away, capitalizing at the free throw line. Syracuse went 20-of-24 from the stripe in the second half, never opening the door to a late VU rally.

"I thought their defense was outstanding," stated Wright.

The Wildcats open BIG EAST play on Dec. 31 at Butler (7:30 p.m.). The game will be one of five conference openers televised nationally by Fox Sports 1 and can also be heard locally on CBS Sports Radio 610.

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