Every dollar donated during December will go directly toward paying students to produce stories like this one. Give now and ensure a brighter future for The Daily Orange.
NEW YORK — Eric Dixon cut from the top of the key to the right block after his entrance pass to the high post and edged Cole Swider further and further under the basket until the Syracuse forward no longer held positioning to rebound. By that point, with 4:37 left in the second half and Villanova leading by six, Jermaine Samuels’ shot had already started its descent toward the rim — where it bounced long and into the air.
Because of Swider’s placement — or lack thereof — Dixon had enough room to snag the ball with both hands and elevate around Swider for the second-chance points. And 12 seconds later, Joe Girard III sent a lofted pass across the court while bringing the ball back up the court, trying to find Swider but instead leaving an easy lane for Collin Gillespie to poke the ball away and tear toward the SU basket in transition. Samuels, trailing the play, took a bounce pass and rose toward the basket, slamming a dunk through the rim.
That sequence — Villanova’s offensive rebound, its second-chance points and SU’s costly turnover — captured everything it took for the Wildcats to erase a three-point halftime deficit, the consequence of a frame where they shot 24.3% from the field, and replace it with a 67-53 win. It took 27 offensive rebounds and 25 second-chance points. It took keeping the ball out of Buddy Boeheim’s hands and using his strength, the 3-point shot, to pierce the Orange’s chance at a late-game comeback instead of reversing the roles. It took the spark of Villanova’s Caleb Daniels off the bench and the reminder that SU couldn’t do the same. If there’s an obvious blueprint to defeating this Syracuse team, that’s exactly it.
The loss snapped the Orange’s two-game winning streak and despite 21 points from Jimmy Boeheim, prevented them from earning the program’s first win against a top-10 team since the 2018-19 season.
“It’s a physical game, and we’re not as physical as we need to be,” head coach Jim Boeheim said. “I think we’re getting better at it, but I think they’re one of the best teams in the country and we’re not.”
When asked postgame in the basement of Madison Square Garden about Villanova’s rebounding and the fact that it had more rebounds (57) than 3-point attempts (50), Villanova head coach Jay Wright chuckled behind the microphone. “That’s a good number,” he said. It’s an area the Wildcats had struggled with at times this season, he added, and one that they’ve gradually gotten better at as the season has progressed. And it all culminated against the Orange with what posed as a “test” of that steady improvement.
They passed. They passed despite Dixon, their tallest starter, standing only 6-foot-8. They passed despite Edwards, who fouled out of Syracuse’s previous two games, playing 31 minutes. They passed, and especially on the offensive glass, did so repeatedly — 13 times in the first half, and 14 in the second.
“They got in there. They tipped the ball around,” Buddy said. “We obviously have to be better, but they’re a physical team.”
The consistent rebounding presence created a stark difference between the halves and allowed the depth of Villanova’s lineup to eventually overpower Syracuse’s. Because for the first 20 minutes, SU’s defense flashed where it could possibly take the Orange when Atlantic Coast Conference play stretches into January, February and eventually March. It forced Villanova into a 1-for-16 stretch from the field at one point in the first half, kickstarting a trend that resembled its win over Florida State on Saturday.
Sometimes, the Orange’s defensive scheme resembled a 2-3 zone, the patented defense of Syracuse’s past. Other times, it resembled a 1-1-3, the new twist that has emerged in SU’s present. And sometimes, it was just a jumble of organized defensive chaos that worked when everything clicked.
Swider hit Syracuse’s first three points of the night against his former team, connecting on a shot in transition and pointing a single finger up in the air. And then Syracuse’s offense turned into a balance of those deep shots and pick-and-rolls with Jesse Edwards — one ending in a turnover from Buddy when his pass floated too high and wide, others ending in free throws for Edwards.
Edwards only managed to connect on one of his six shots — his worst shooting performance of the season — while Buddy scored just six points for the second consecutive game. But Jimmy’s offensive impact stretched from block to block, allowing him to post up and call for the ball against Villanova defenders or isolate his matchup when defenders didn’t peel from SU’s shooters. He finished with his second-best scoring performance this season while only connecting on one 3-pointer.
Jimmy converted a shot near the basket with two seconds left to give Syracuse a three-point lead heading into halftime, but Gillespie finished Villanova’s first possession of the second half with a 3-pointer. Then, Samuels drove to the right block and finished a layup, and Buddy missed a shot at the other end. One offensive rebound, one Edwards foul and two Justin Moore mid-range shots later, Villanova had gathered the lead.
Even with the drastic rebounding advantage, it took the Wildcats nearly 31 minutes to build a lead that would last. And the daggers were two shots from the exact same spot — the top of the key, a few feet past the 3-point line — with their high arcs starting at the top of Syracuse’s 1-1-3 zone, traveling over all the spots inside of it and ending with piercing swishes through the basket.
The first one came from Gillespie, whose 3-pointer with 9:03 left gave Villanova a seven-point lead over the Orange. Jimmy’s quick layup at the other end had momentarily halted the impact of Gillespie’s, but then Samuels’ shot one minute later, this one after Jimmy turned it over, pushed the lead to eight. That was when SU’s reality started to set in, with an offensive rebound and second-chance basket by Samuels off a missed 3-pointer, only accelerating that and grinding the Orange’s progress of the first half to a halt.
“If we played Villanova two, three weeks ago, we’d have been down 15 at halftime,” Boeheim said. “So we’re getting better. We’re not there, but we’re getting better.”
With the way Syracuse’s last two games have gone, Tuesday emerged as an opportunity to show how far its season had come. To show that the loss to Colgate was a fluke, that a porous defense can be patched and that it’s OK — maybe even acceptable — for teams to hold Buddy to single-digit points because of the weapons that SU had around him.
But instead, when the game clock flashed zeros inside MSG, Villanova showed how far the Orange still have to go.
The post No. 6 Villanova’s 27 offensive rebounds overmatch Syracuse in 67-53 loss appeared first on The Daily Orange.