Scottie Reynolds scored 22 points and Villanova rode some hot shooting in the second half to knock off Syracuse 82-63 Wednesday in the opening round of the Big East tournament.
Corey Stokes added 18 points for Villanova, which hit eight 3-pointers after halftime in what amounted to an NCAA tournament elimination game. The teams split their regular-season meetings and each came into the conference tournament needing a couple of wins to breath easier on Sunday.
Unlike last season, when Syracuse won 22 games and was still left out of the dance, coach Jim Boeheim won’t have much to complain about this time.
Dwayne Anderson added 14 points, Dante Cunningham 13 and Shane Clark 11 for Villanova, which improved to 14-1 this season when hitting at least eight 3-pointers in a game. The Wildcats (20-11) advanced to play the tournament’s top seed, No. 9 Georgetown, in a rematch of a second-round game last year won by the Hoyas.
Villanova has never beaten Georgetown in four conference tournament games, but a win this time might lock up an NCAA tournament berth.
Donte Greene and Jonny Flynn, the nation’s second-highest scoring freshman duo, did their part for Syracuse. Green finished with 17 points and Flynn had 16, but aside from 13 points from Paul Harris, they got little help.
The Orange (19-13) led throughout the first half and early in the second, when their inability to grab a rebound or hold onto the ball finally did them in.
Stokes hit a deep 3-pointer with 12:26 left to make it 44-41 — giving Villanova a 19-0 advantage in points off the bench to that point — and Syracuse went more than 4 minutes without a basket while the Wildcats pulled away.
Anderson’s 3-pointer with 8:35 left seemed to demoralize Syracuse, and a pair of 3s by Reynolds on Villanova’s next two possessions made it 61-47 and left Boeheim standing stone still, arms crossed in frustration.
The Wildcats continued to pour it on, the lead increasing to 20 when Arinze Onuaku fouled out with 4:32 left and Cunningham made good on a pair of free throws.
Undersized Villanova, giving up several inches at most positions, managed to outrebound Syracuse 39-27 and grabbed an impressive 14 offensive rebounds.
Early on, Syracuse and Villanova looked more like a couple of teams that didn’t belong in the Big East tournament, much less the NCAA tournament. The two teams went scoreless for nearly 4 minutes.
Eventually Greene got hot, knocking down three straight 3-pointers as the Orange raced to an 11-point lead that they nursed for most of the first half.
Their sloppy ballhandling finally caught up to them in the closing minutes, though.
Syracuse still clung to a 28-19 lead with 1:10 left when Villanova’s Corey Stokes hit a 3-pointer and Shane Clark got ahead of the defense off a turnover — the Orange’s 12th of the half — for a transition dunk.
Moments later, Anderson curled in a 3 from the corner as the clock expired to make it 28-27 at the break.