By Sean Kennedy
Syracuse 78, Villanova 62
Entering the hostile environment of the Carrier Dome, it was a storybook beginning for the Wildcats, as they made their first four three point attempts, including a perfect 3-3 from James Bell (game-high 25 points including 6-12 3PT). Villanova’s swarming, trapping zone was denying post entry to the bigger Orange, and Syracuse was settling for long jumpers and tear drops in the lane weren’t falling. Villanova found itself up 25-7 with that 18-point deficit representing the largest hole Syracuse had found itself in all season. However, that was the high-water mark for the Wildcats as it was all downhill from there.
From that point on, Syracuse exploded for a 20-0 run as the trio of C.J. Fair (17 points), Trevor Cooney (21 points), and Tyler Ennis (20 points) led the charge for the Orange. Cooney was lights-out from behind the arc, finishing 5-8, while Ennis did a great job leading the fast break off Villanova turnovers. Although Fair struggled at times during the game, he still showed off the full range of his talents, hitting a couple threes, finishing some athletic putbacks, and displaying a nice spin move in the lane to bank home a short jumper.
During the big Syracuse run, Villanova started settling for long threes early in the shot clock, not taking advantage of the fact that they were in the bonus just 7 minutes into the game. JayVaughn Pinkston struggled against the size of the Orange on the interior, with all 4 of his turnovers coming in the first half and finishing with just 3 points. As the Wildcats lead shrank and the crowd noise grew, Villanova began to look visibly nervous and committed some bad turnovers. Syracuse worked their way to a 38-34 halftime advantage and the ending looked like a foregone conclusion the way things were going.
The action progressed more along those lines in the second frame with Villanova making their lone charge about halfway through the period. Syracuse’s Jerami Grant flagrant foul was charged for a flagrant foul when on what probably just deserved to be an offensive personal foul. Bell hit both free throws and the Wildcats hit another free throw on the ensuing possession to cut the lead to 6. They would close to within 3 a minute later but that was as small as the deficit would get from that point on.
Syracuse stretched the lead out to a more manageable level and hit their free throws down the stretch to cruise to what looked like an easy, 16-point victory. Although the Wildcats played better than the final score would indicate, they will need a better plan for when they face other teams with size going forward. You can’t rely solely on the three-point attack against good opponents, because you’ll die by the three just as easily as you live by it.
12:00 PM: Pennsylvania (2-7, 0-0 Ivy) @ Rider (5-5, 2-0 MAAC)
In the midst of a 4-game losing streak and needing a win in the worst way, Penn will to New Jersey to take on Rider. As opposed to their last game against Villanova, the Broncs will find the going much easier against the Quakers in what will be their final non-conference game before jumping back into their MAAC schedule. Basically the opposite of the Quakers, Rider actually sports a very good offense, while struggling on the defensive side of the ball.
Four players average double figures for the Broncs, led by 6’5″ senior guard Anthony Myles at 19.5 ppg. Rider as a whole is very efficient from behind the arc, shooting 43.4% as a team (good for 6th in the nation) and with 6 players 39% or better. Penn is about middle of the road defending the three (33.7% against) and their perimeter defense will be a big factor in this contest.
No word yet whether Darien Nelson-Henry will play this game following missing a contest with a concussion. Although both their wins this season have come against MAAC foes, Rider has too much firepower for Penn, especially if Nelson-Henry is our once again. I expect the Quakers’ slide to continue.
2:00 PM: Drexel (8-3, 0-0 CAA) vs. Buffalo (5-4, 0-0 MAC)
After having a 4-game winning streak snapped by St. Joe’s, Drexel rebounded against St. Francis prior to the holiday break, and will now look to keep things going against the Buffalo Bulls. Buffalo has gone 5-4 against one of the weaker schedules in college basketball, as their only game against a big-conference opponent was an opening night loss to Texas A&M.
6’7″ senior Javon McCrea is the main force for the Bulls, averaging 17.9 ppg, 9.7 rpg (top-30 nationally), and 2.6 bpg (top-40 nationally). Drexel will likely have Kazembe Abif and Dartaye Ruffin trade off with the defensive assignment on McCrea. If they can contain the Buffalo big man, the Dragons will run away with this game. Regardless, I feel Drexel will win their second straight in West Philly.
4:00 PM: Saint Joseph’s (6-4, 0-0 A-10) vs. Boston (7-5, 0-0 Patriot)
The Hawks will look to win their third straight game as they get back in action against the Boston Terriers. Formerly of the America East conference, Boston was picked by many to win the Patriot League this season with their top three players all returning. Following a 2012-13 campaign that ended in a CIT tournament appearance, the Terriers are hungry for more. Coming off their best win of the season a week ago at Maryland, this bunch won’t be intimidated by Hawk Hill..
The starting backcourt does the majority of the damage for the Terriers with Maurice Watson Jr. leading the team in points (14.5) and assists (6.5), while shooting 40.0% from three. Backcourt mate D.J. Irving is also an efficient outside shooter, averaging 12.9 ppg and making over 2 threes per game at a 41.3% clip. While those two have the defenses attention on the perimeter, 6’7″ senior forward Dom Morris does his damage on the interior, accuring 12.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per contest.
The Hawks match up well with Boston but will need their offense to be firing on all cylinders as we saw the last two games against Drexel and Loyola (MD). Boston will battle tough but look for St. Joe’s to win a close one at home.