“We made shots,” Jay Wright said. “You play against the zone, you make shots you’ve got a chance. If you’re not making shots, you’re in trouble.”
It was that simple for Villanova on Saturday afternoon at the Carrier Dome before a season high crowd of 33,736, the second highest crowd in the building’s history. The Wildcats hit 8-13 from behind the arc in the first half to build a double digit lead at halftime and used some great free throw shooting late to hold on and beat the Orangeman 83-72.
For the seniors, it was the 3rd time in 4 tries that they have marched into Syracuse and walked out with a win.
It was a sophomore, however, that got the party started early. Maalik Wayns made 3 of his 4 three pointers on his way to 17 first half points and allowed the Wildcats to lead by as many as 14 early. His back court mate, Corey Fisher, also added 9 points in the first half on 3-3 shooting from three point range, as the star studded guards set the tone for what would be a hot night for the Wildcats.
The last time these two teams met in the Carrier Dome was before an NCAA on-campus-record crowd of 34,616 last year and turned out to be the only loss for Seniors Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, and Antonio Pena in Syracuse. Villanova was held to 8-of-28 (28.6 percent) from downtown and lost the game by 18.
This time around was a different story. Against a Syracuse team allowing opposing teams to shoot only 28% from three, 10th best in the nation, Villanova shot 62% in the first half and 46% for the game.
They used their scorching hot start to build the first half lead and when they cooled off in the second half, it would be the free throw line where they clinched it in the end, connecting on 22 of their 24 free throws.
Syracuse made their run late in the second half and cut the lead to 4 on a Kris Joseph dunk with 2:40 remaining. However, with the ball in the hands of their steady guards, Villanova was able to break the press, usually with one dribbler either Fisher or Wayns, and made their final 12 from the line to close it out.
Wayns ended his night with 21 points, 2 assists, and 2 steals. Fisher ended his night with 16 points and 7 assists.
It was not all Wayns and Fisher, however. Corey Stokes picked up some slack in the 2nd half hitting on 3 of his 6 threes and ended his night with 16 points, right on his average.
Perhaps the biggest key for Villanova in the coming months is the continued emergence of the front court. The big guys for the Wildcats did a great job keeping the likes of Rick Jackson, Fab Melo, and Kris Joseph in check. Though Jackson did end up with 16 points and 15 rebounds, the rotating door in Villanova’s front court of Mouph Yarou, Antonio Pena, Isiah Armwood, and Maurice Sutton were only out rebounded by 5 against the larger Syracuse bigs.
Kris Joseph led the Orange with 23 points, but was held to only 3 rebounds and also had 5 turnovers.
As Antonio Pena continues to consistently hit the mid range jumper and Mouph Yarou starts to add some new post moves to his arsenal, Villanova will only get better. Their consistency on defense and on the boards is allowing Jay Wright to give them more and more freedom on the offensive end to go along with the isolation that the guards get.
Beyond the starting lineup for Villanova, it has been the play off the bench of the ever-improving Isiah Armwood and more recently Maurice Sutton that has started to settle this team in to the upper echelon of the Big East.
In just 15 minutes of action, Sutton went 2-2 from the floor including 4-5 from the line scoring 8 points. He also added 5 rebounds and 2 blocked shots, to go along with numerous hustle plays that will not show up in any boxscore. Sutton has had his struggles early on in the season, and will never be confused with a scorer. However, if he can consistently stuff the stat sheet in minimal minutes, it will go along way in making Villanova a national contender.
With Pitt losing to Notre Dame, Villanova has now moved into a tie in the loss column with the Panthers for first place in the Big East.
Its a long season when you play in the loaded Big East, but with 5 ranked Big East foes left on the schedule, its so far so good for a Villanova team that is now 17-2 and 5-1 in the conference. They will get one more road test at Providence on Wednesday night before getting three straight at home against 20th ranked Georgetown, Marquette, and West Virginia.
About the Author
Written by Brendan Kelly
Hoops junkie. Graduated from Temple U with a broadcasting and communications degree looking to get into a career in sports, more specifically basketball.