Syracuse, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - Trevor Cooney scored 21 points and No. 2 Syracuse withstood an early barrage from Villanova before pulling away for a 78-62 victory in a top-10 matchup of former conference rivals from the Carrier Dome.
The Orange (12-0) fell behind 25-7 nine minutes in after the Wildcats sank five of their first seven attempts from 3-point range, but used an improved defensive effort and big performances from Cooney and Tyler Ennis to overcome their early deficit and remain unbeaten while dealing Villanova its first loss of the season.
Cooney knocked down 5-of-8 shots from beyond the arc and Ennis tallied 20 points to aid the rally. C.J. Fair helped Syracuse's cause as well by posting 17 points and six rebounds.
"It showed a lot about us tonight," said Cooney. "We didn't want to get down so much, but then we were able to come out and get some stops and get a lot of big buckets. It just showed a lot about us."
Villanova (11-1) went just 5-of-24 on 3-point tries after its early success and shot only 38 percent overall for the contest. James Bell netted a game- high 25 points in a losing cause, accounting for six of the Wildcats' 10 makes from long distance.
"We certainly did not play our best game, but Syracuse had a lot to do with that," said Villanova head coach Jay Wright.
Bell sank a trio of 3-pointers in the game's first five minutes, the last staking Villanova to a quick 15-5 advantage, and the Wildcats followed with a 10-2 run that Josh Hart capped with a thunderous fast-break dunk to put Syracuse in an 18-point hole near the midway mark of the first half.
The Wildcats' offense then went cold, missing nine straight shots during a scoreless drought that lasted nearly seven minutes. Syracuse ripped off 20 consecutive points during the dry spell to pull ahead.
Cooney dropped in eight points and Fair had six during the Orange's momentum- shifting tear, which ended on an Ennis layup that put Syracuse up 27-25 with 4:52 left in the half.
"We finally got our offense going and Trevor [had] a couple of good looks and C.J. a couple looks and then our defense started to pick up," said Orange head coach Jim Boeheim. "We didn't give them any looks. That's what I'm most proud of."
A Dylan Ennis jumper finally halted the Wildcats' scoreless stretch, but a Cooney trey followed by a 3-point play from Tyler Ennis sent the Orange ahead by a 33-27 count three minutes prior to intermission. Syracuse took a 38-34 edge into the break.
The Orange countered a Bell three to begin the second half with nine straight points to increase the margin to 47-37 and were up by eight with under 10 minutes left before Villanova closed the gap. Hart and Bell both sank 3- pointers during a 7-2 spurt that pulled the Wildcats within 56-53 with 7:02 to play.
Bell's sixth triple of the afternoon kept Villanova in striking distance at 64-59 with 3:26 remaining, but the Wildcats didn't make a field goal the rest of the way as Syracuse put the game out of reach.
Up 71-62 with just over a minute left, the Orange hit 7-of-8 free throws down the stretch to win going away.
The schools were meeting in a non-conference setting for the first time since the 1980 NCAA Tournament, a 97-83 Syracuse win in an East Region matchup. Villanova joined the Orange in the Big East the following season, with the two remaining conference rivals until Syracuse's departure for the ACC this year ... Villanova's 62 points was a season-low and more than 20 under its season average of 82.5 points per game ... The win was Syracuse's 50th straight against a non-conference opponent at the Carrier Dome ... The Orange host Eastern Michigan Thursday before facing Miami at the Carrier Dome next Saturday in their first-ever ACC game.