In a highly anticipated matchup between two basketball powerhouses, Villanova traveled to Madison Square Garden to face Syracuse and former Wildcat Cole Swider on Tuesday night. The ‘Cats emerged victorious, securing a 67-53 victory over the Orange.
“That was a great college basketball atmosphere,” said Villanova head coach Jay Wright. “I could feel it as soon as we walked out on the floor. I hope our guys enjoyed it too.”
With over 14,000 fans in attendance for the annual Jimmy V Classic, the largest crowd the ‘Cats have seen this year, the Garden was “rocking”, as Wright described it.
Villanova was led by junior guard Justin Moore, who finished with 18 points and six rebounds. Graduate guard Collin Gillespie added 14 points, five assists and three steals.
Two other ‘Cats recorded double figures as graduate forward Jermaine Samuels recorded a near double-double with 13 points and nine rebounds. Senior guard Caleb Daniels provided a spark off the bench with 11 points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.
Villanova’s rebounding, led by Samuels and graduate forward Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, who added six rebounds off the bench, was the key to their success in the win. The ‘Cats tallied 57 rebounds, 27 of those coming on the offensive end, resulting in 25 second chance points. Syracuse finished with 36 rebounds and seven second chance points. Villanova is now 7-0 on the season when out-rebounding their opponents.
“Rebounding is an area that we have been struggling with. We’d been getting better the last couple games and we knew this was going to be a test today to see if we could continue that path to improvement,” said Wright. “In the first half we couldn't make a shot and the offensive rebounding kept us in the game.”
The Syracuse 2-3 zone was a headache for the ‘Cats in the first half, as Villanova scored just 26 points on 9-37 shooting. For a team that averages nearly 80 points per game on the season, it was clear that they would have to make some adjustments.
“It took a whole half for us to figure it out,” explained Wright. “Our guys had to get comfortable with the way they were flying at our shooters and protecting the rim.”
The ‘Cats did just that, improving to 40% shooting from the field and 36.4% from three in the second half while simultaneously holding Syracuse to a lesser 32.1% from the field and 14.1% from distance.
“I was really proud of our second half effort,” said Wright. “We struggled in the first half with their zone, struggled guarding them a little bit, but our defensive effort in the second half was outstanding.”
Notable defensive success for the ‘Cats included holding Syracuse’s leading scorer, senior Buddy Boeheim, who averages 17.7 ppg, to just six points on 3-15 shooting.
When asked what or who helped in slowing down Boeheim, Wright answered, “I think Justin Moore and Brandon Slater. They’re really good individual defenders. It sounds trite, but if you have guys who can guard one on one it really makes your defense great.”
The Orange was led by graduate forward Jimmy Boeheim, who scored a game high 21 points on 10-19 shooting.
Both teams started off hot in the first half, with each team draining three threes in the first 3.5 minutes of the game resulting in a 12-11 score, Syracuse with the advantage, at the first TV timeout.
The momentum came to a halt after the second media timeout with Syracuse holding the ‘Cats scoreless for 5:21 until Cosby-Roundtree drew a foul on an offensive rebound and ended the scoring drought with a made free throw.
The Orange held a 22-17 lead at the 5:21 mark before Moore responded with a three to cut the lead to two. Behind a layup from senior forward Brandon Slater and two more free throws from Cosby-Roundtree, the ‘Cats tied the game at 24 with two minutes remaining in the half. Jimmy Boeheim scored for Syracuse with five seconds left to give Syracuse a three point lead at the break.
Villanova opened the half with a 9-2 run to take a four point lead three minutes in. The two teams traded baskets for the next four minutes with four lead changes in that time.
The ‘Cats held a one point lead when Moore drilled a deep three off an out of bounds play out of the second media timeout. Gillespie followed with another three on Villanova's next trip to give the ‘Cats a seven point lead.
The Boeheim brothers tried to respond with three straight field goals, but behind five straight points from Samuels, the ‘Cats were able to ward them off. Gillespie came up with a steal off Swider leading to a momentum shifting dunk for Samuels on the fast break to give Villanova their first double digit lead of the night.
Syracuse went 0-8 from the field in the final 4:21 of the game, allowing the ‘Cats to extend their lead to 16 and secure the win.
Villanova has one more game before beginning Big East play next week. The ‘Cats travel to Waco, Texas on Sunday to face No.2 Baylor, a team who knocked them out of the Sweet Sixteen in last year's NCAA tournament. Tip-off is scheduled for 3 p.m on ABC.