SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Villanova coach Jay Wright had a plan to attack Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone.
It worked for a while, but not nearly long enough as the seventh-ranked Orange overcame a tough first half and beat the Wildcats 72-61 Saturday.
"We tried to go inside-out in the first half and they did a good job of taking that away in the second half and making us rely on the jump shot," Wright said. "It's a cat-and-mouse game. You've got to try to get it inside. They just did a better job in the second half than we did."
C.J. Fair had 22 points and redshirt freshman Trevor Cooney made a pair of 3-pointers to punctuate a late surge as Syracuse rallied after being held to a season-low 27 points in the first half.
Villanova held a two-point lead at the break and a 26-18 rebounding edge as Syracuse shot 30.3 percent (10 of 33) and struggled from behind the arc, going 1 for 7, and registered only three assists.
The Wildcats only managed only eight points in the paint in the second half and were outrebounded 16-14 as the game slipped away.
"We really wanted to come in and see if we could take a game from them, but the second half we just didn't bring the intensity that we brought in the first half," freshman guard Ryan Arcidiacono said. "We kind of went away from playing Villanova basketball. We've just got to learn how to play 40 minutes of solid basketball."
JayVaughn Pinkston led Villanova with 12 points and Mouphtaou Yarou had 11 points and 14 rebounds. Arcidiacono had seven points, missing six of seven shots from behind the arc as Villanova shot 5 of 23 from long range.
"Give them the credit,' Wright said. "Because they're long, they have the ability to get out on shooters. We had to make a couple of those and we couldn't do it."
Syracuse (16-1, 4-0 Big East) has won 34 straight home games, the longest active streak in the nation in Division I. Villanova (11-5, 2-1) had its seven-game winning streak snapped.
Fresh from two straight wins on the road, the Orange played without James Southerland. The senior, Syracuse's second-leading scorer at 13.6 points per game in his key role off the bench, is out until further notice because of an eligibility matter, the university said in a statement released just before the game. He sat on the bench in street clothes.
Jerami Grant had a career-high 13 points and Dajuan Coleman had six as Syracuse's freshmen had important contributions after hardly playing at Providence on Wednesday night. Michael Carter-Williams finished with 10 points and seven assists and Brandon Triche had 10 points.
Syracuse trailed for much of the first half, and after Triche was called for his fourth foul with 16:26 left in the second, the Orange were without their top two scorers when he sat down on the bench not far from Southerland.
Fair, who entered the game with three double-doubles in the previous four games, became the go-to guy for Syracuse, scoring 11 of the Orange's first 15 points of the period. He broke a 34-all tie with a midrange jumper just before Triche's fourth foul, then converted a floater in the lane and sank two free throws to give Syracuse a 40-34 lead at 13:46, a lead that it never relinquished.
After Arcidiacono scored from the wing, Carter-Williams passed to Coleman for a basket off the glass after a pretty fake underneath to keep the Syracuse lead at six.
The crowd of 27,586, largest of the season in the Carrier Dome, then roared for the first time as Syracuse went on a 15-4 run to gain a 14-point cushion.
Coleman started the surge with a two-handed slam dunk and Cooney finished it with two 3-pointers in a 44-second span, giving Syracuse a 61-47 lead with 5:48 left.
"It's usually a run like that that if you don't answer it, then you're playing from behind," Wright said. "We knew if we didn't answer that, it would be over. We tried, but we didn't answer."
James Bell's 3-pointer from the left corner narrowed the lead to 64-58 with 2:03 left, but the Orange held on with some clutch free- throw shooting, making 8 of 10 in the final 90 seconds.
"They're very well-prepared for your personnel," Wright said of the Orange. "They don't play the same against everybody. They put two guys on Arch (Arcidiacono) all day. There's a lot more to their zone than just a 2-3. Knowing that they were going to do that to Arch, I thought he handled it really well."
The game started out as a struggle on both sides. In the first five minutes, the teams combined to shoot 1 of 14, committed five turnovers and registered five blocks as Nova took a 3-2 lead.
The Wildcats had the largest lead of the first half at 14-9 when Yarou converted off the glass with 8 minutes left.
It was Villanova's last Big East game in the Carrier Dome as Syracuse prepares to join the Atlantic Coast Conference in July, and though the teams hope to continue the series it won't be the same.
"This place, Syracuse University, Jim Boeheim, Syracuse basketball have probably meant more to the Big East than all of us because we all get to come up and play here," Wright said. "I've thought about it a lot.
"When we played in the NCAA tournament here (in 2005), all of the people in this arena treated us like we were Syracuse. We were the Big East team. Syracuse people love all the Big East teams. When you come up here, they treat you like gold."