Sunday, February 22, 2009

Anderson, Redding Key #12 Wildcats Victory at #24 Syracuse's Carrier Dome, 89-86

To the Wildcat faithful-

Senior Dwayne Anderson set a career-high with 22 points, matching his jersey number, and junior Reggie Redding dished out seven assists and added persistent defensive tenacity - half a dozen steals - on Sunday.
Redding had one of the best games of his career, as the defensive-minded guard also scored 11 points to go with his stellar 7-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

They made the difference in #12 Villanova's thrilling 89-86 victory over #24 Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, in front of a national CBS audience. The Wildcats have now swept Syracuse this season and remain red-hot, triumphing for the eighth time in nine games.

This was Villanova's fourth consecutive victory at the Carrier Dome, an impressive feat by any team. This year also marked the fourth consecutive season that the Wildcats and Orangemen have met twice in the regular season, which is unusual given the now-16-strong conference. It's worth noting that this is the first time that 'Nova has swept two meetings from Syracuse in the regular season since 2006, the first year of this sequence of twice-a-year regular-season meetings. (Last season, in fact, 'Nova faced Syracuse three times, beating the Orange in the NCAA tournament to take two of the three contests.

It was a marvelously entertaining game today: full of steals, dives, frequent assists and rapid ball motion, dunks in transition, and (for lack of a more ornate phrase) just really exciting basketball. There was a very large crowd on hand to see it: according to CBS, was the third-largest to attend any NCAA game this season (in fairness, there aren't many other venues outside the Carrier Dome that could accommodate a crowd that large, but SU fans are passionate).

The dramatic crescendo in a contest, that was already chock-full of spectacle, was the late charge by Syracuse, after trailing for most of the second half. It culminated in the last-second flurry of fouls and Villanova turnovers, as the 'Cuse nearly stole the game at the end, literally and figuratively. They forced 'Nova miscues and subsequently obtained no fewer than three chances to hit what would have been the tying-triple at the buzzer, as well as missing half a dozen shots with under a minute to play.

However, the orange-clad throngs in the Carrier Dome, although they saw exciting basketball, did not have the opportunity to hear Verne Lundquist and Clark Kellogg do the CBS broadcast: they make a great team, as Lundquist's low-key manner makes a great mix with the analysis of Kellogg, who did his usual fine job of combining high-level substantive analysis with entertaining, unique turns of phrase...

Villanova collapsed its interior defense very effectively on the 'Cuse today, forcing Jim Boeheim to rely on his perimeter shooters. The Orangemen took no fewer than 39 (yes, that's not a typo) three-point attempts, of which they made a dozen.

Andy Rautins came off the bench to take 15 three-point attempts (as many as the entire Wildcat team) and made six of them (one fewer than the Wildcats), finishing with 18 points and five assists before he fouled out in the waning seconds of the game. I was surprised that Rautins committed that foul, as although the foul was necessary, it was not necessary that Rautins himself commit it. As a result undoubtedly went through the minds of the Orangemen, when they missed three three-pointers as the clock ran out, that Rautins might have made one of them, had he still been on the floor. Another bench player with a big impact was the Belgian Kristof Ongenaet, who logged 24 minutes, made all three of his shots, had three assists, two blocked shots, and contributed 11 rebounds. Boeheim ultimately used just seven players.

Eric Devendorf led the way for the 'Cuse, scoring 22 points (firing up 10 three-point attempts and hitting three of them) on 7-14 shooting and adding six assists. Paul Harris had 21 points on 9-16 shooting, six rebounds and three steals. Jonny Flynn did not have as much of an impact as he had in the first game at the Wachovia Center, finishing with a dozen points on 5-17 shooting, but had eight assists.

Some thoughts on the box score:

Villanova had a tremendously well-balanced attack, with no fewer than half a dozen players in double figures. Anderson had the career-high 22 points on 8-14 shooting, including 4-6 from beyond the arc; he established a perimeter threat early by canning his first three triples over the trademark Syracuse 2-3 zone. Fellow senior Shane Clark, although overshadowed by Anderson's heroics, came up big with 15 points and eight boards.
Sophomore Corey Fisher came off the bench to add 16 points on 5-6 shooting, and also hit five of his seven free throw attempts.

Senior Dante Cunningham added yet another double-double - a "dozen-dozen", with 12 points and 12 rebounds, the most impressive field goal being a dunk off one of his four offensive rebounds - plus half a dozen assists (a unique statistical combination). Cunningham had a major impact, despite the fact that he did not have a good shooting day from the floor. Cunningham has great accuracy, but Syracuse held him to 5-14 shooting.

Villanova's other most potent offensive weapon, Scottie Reynolds, did not have a particularly good day. Reynolds played just 23 minutes (and he wasn't in foul trouble - he had no fouls, in fact). He made only one of his five three-point attempts, uncharacteristically missed two of his three free throw attempts, and committed five turnovers against two assists. A particularly encouraging lesson to be drawn from this game may be the fact that Villanova was playing a ranked opponent on its home floor, who managed to contain both Reynolds and Cunningham - Villanova's two biggest guns - and the Wildcats won, anyway.

As a team, Villanova shot well from the floor (52.5%), and won the game down the stretch at the foul line; the Wildcats ultimately finished the game with 18-26 shooting from the line, 69.2%.

Looking at the rotation:

Cunningham fell into foul trouble in the second half, when he picked up his third and fourth fouls on consecutive sets, but that was virtually the only time he wasn't on the floor - he still played 34 minutes, despite missing a critical stretch of the second half. Corey Stokes received 13 minutes and had three points and three rebounds. Antonio Pena got just four minutes today, with one rebound and one shot. Senior Frank Tchuisi made an unexpected cameo appearance at the end of the first half, coming in for the last 3.9 seconds for defense after a Villanova free throw, to ensure that Cunningham did not pick up a bad foul on the last set (a great move by Wright that we might see in the future).

The game action:

After the score opened at 7-7, the Wildcats made a run off some Syracuse turnovers, launching a 13-2 run to take a 20-9 lead. They were able to maintain that lead, and still led 32-20 at the 7:46 mark. The Orangemen countered with a 12-4 run, capped off with a traditional three-point play from Ongenaet, and pulled to within 36-32 with 4:34 to play in the half. 'Nova maintained its lead for the rest of the half and led 45-40 at intermission; Anderson was already in double figures with 11 at this point.

After 'Nova started the half with five quick points to boost the lead to 50-40, Syracuse was able to rally and take a 59-57 lead with 12:58 to play on a triple by Rautins, the first time the Orangemen had led since holding a 5-2 in the early going. The very large crowd started to engage, and the Wildcats seemed vulnerable. However, they responded with the most electrifying sequence of the contest, scoring 11 unanswered points and taking the lead for good. After retying the game at 59, Anderson hit a triple on an assist from Redding, and Boeheim opted for a timeout at the 11:22 mark. Clark put in a layup to boost the lead to 64-59. On the ensuing possession, Redding stole the ball from Flynn, and got it to Anderson in transition; Anderson missed the layup but Cunninghaml, trailing behind, dunked it off the rebound. Flynn then turned it over again to Redding, who got it to Anderson again - and this time Anderson didn't miss, dunking it. With the score now 68-59 and with all of the momentum 'Nova's way, Boeheim had to use another timeout at the 10:39 mark; he ended up with only one timeout down the stretch and it probably helped 'Nova's efforts to protect its lead.

Villanova still led 80-71, as late as the 2:49 mark, and 86-79 with 47 seconds to play, and the Wildcats were looking to salt away the win. It seemed that Syracuse was out of it, but they were able to make it unpleasantly exciting in those 47 seconds. Syracuse reduced the lead to 88-84 with 32 seconds to play, and after a 'Nova timeout, forced Reynolds into travelling. Devendorf scored on a layup to make it a one-possession game with 21 seconds to play. Trailing by two on the next possession, Rautins committed the necessary foul on Redding with 16 seconds to play, but it didn't have to be him - Syracuse was only down two, and it benefitted the Wildcats to get him off the floor. Redding made one of two to boost the lead to 89-86. Flynn missed a three-pointer on the next possession but Syracuse got the ball out of bounds off the rebound. On their final possession, Devendorf's three was blocked by Stokes; Harris rebounded for Syracuse and missed a three, and Flynn had yet another shot to tie it at the buzzer, but when his shot clanged off the rim, that was the end for Syracuse. The three Syracuse misses on the last possession were the coda on a memorable game, with lots of highlight-reel-worthy plays...

The Wildcats soared to 10-4 Big East, 22-5 overall, and can expect their national standing to increase slightly when the new Top 25 polls emerge on Monday. The Orangemen fell to 7-7 Big East, 19-8 overall. Despite its #24 ranking and wins over prominent opponents, Syracuse has not yet definitively locked up a NCAA bid, having lost six of its last eight games; a victory over #12 Villanova would have gone a long way toward security on Selection Sunday.

Villanova will now enjoy a considerable breather as it heads to Chicago to take on struggling DePaul on Wednesday. The Blue Demons are locked in the hell of a winless Big East season, and are trying to avoid becoming the first BE team to go through an entire conference slate without a victory since the 1994 Miami team went winless (credit Ryan Fannon on the radio post-game show for that fact).

Various Viewpoints

Go get the full roundup from the other Villanova sites:

Pete at Let's Go 'Nova

Chris at
I Bleed Blue and White has his wrapup in postGame: Villanova 89, Syracuse 86, as well as Highlights from Villanova-Syracuse and Video: Jay Wright Discusses the Win...

greyCat at
Villanova By the Numbers - Nova Sweeps Syracuse in a Nail Biter...

Tim at
Nova News has Nova Sweeps Syracuse...

And for the view from a Syracuse perspective-

The always-entertaining Troy Nunes Is A Magician: Covering Syracuse For the Good of The People - story

Go Wildcats!

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