SYRACUSE, N.Y. – The formula is simple: hit from outside and you can give a zone defense fits, even Jim Boeheim's vaunted 2-3 at Syracuse. Need a blueprint for success? Consult Villanova coach Jay Wright and his Wildcats.
Guards Maalik Wayns and Corey Fisher combined to hit 6 of 7 shots from beyond the arc in the first half, giving No. 7 Villanova a big lead, and the Wildcats held on to beat third-ranked Syracuse 83-72 in a raucous Carrier Dome on Saturday.
Not even a season-high crowd of 33,736, second-largest in the building's history, could deter 'Nova as Syracuse (18-2, 5-2 Big East) lost its second straight.
"We made shots," Wright said. "You play against the zone, you make shots you've got a chance. If you're not making shots, you're in trouble."
When the teams last met in the Carrier Dome 11 months ago, an NCAA on-campus-record crowd of 34,616 turned out and Syracuse limited the Wildcats to 8 of 28 (28.6 percent) on 3-pointers and won by 18.
This time Villanova's guards had their way from beyond the arc in the first half, hitting 8 of 13 as the Wildcats built a double-digit lead in the first 10 minutes against a zone defense that had been allowing just a 28 percent conversion rate from long range.
"Zone is like playing man. Their zone is not unstoppable," said Fisher, who finished with 16 points, seven assists and four turnovers. "You're going to look bad sometimes and you can look good sometimes. We're going to keep being aggressive no matter if we look good or bad. We're going to play hard."
Fisher and Corey Stokes each had 16 points and Antonio Pena 10 for Villanova (17-2, 5-1).
The Wildcats played at a deliberate pace — they did not score on the fast break in the first half and had only two baskets on the break the entire game. And after Syracuse closed within 69-65 on Kris Joseph's slam dunk with 2:47 to play, the Wildcats ignored the shaking building, calmly went to the free throw line, and made the foul shots to win it.
Villanova missed just two of its 24 attempts, the misses coming on consecutive possessions midway in the second half, while the Orange were just 8 of 12 from the line.
Joseph, who missed the Orange loss at Pitt on Monday night with a head injury, finished with 23 points. Rick Jackson had 16 points and 15 rebounds, his 13th double-double, and Brandon Triche had 14 points for the Orange.
Syracuse's guards had an awful game, though, and that was costly. Scoop Jardine, a Philadelphia native, had two points on 1-of-8 shooting, and freshman Dion Waiters was 2 of 12, as they combined to go 1 for 10 from beyond the arc.
"Our point guard play was not good. We can't win with that kind of play," Boeheim said. "Offensively, we never really got going the whole game. Like Monday night, we battled back. I thought we did a good job getting back in against a good team. We played two teams this week that are legitimate top-five, top-six teams. We're not good enough right now. We're still looking for some answers."
It was the second straight game for each squad against a top-10 team. Villanova lost 61-59 at No. 8 Connecticut on Monday, when the Orange lost 74-66 at fifth-ranked Pitt after falling behind 19-0.
"When you're playing a top-10 team in the nation, you just don't want to lose like that," Jackson said. "We can play better than we're playing right now. I think we did a great job of trying to fight back at the end, but we can't let teams get out on us."
The Orange scored the first six points of the second half to pull within 40-33 as Wayns and Fisher missed open 3s, and Syracuse was back in the game. With the crowd roaring, the Orange closed what had been a 13-point deficit behind Joseph.
After Fisher's three-point play gave Villanova a 51-38 lead with 14:51 to go, Joseph scored eight straight points. He swished a 3 over Stokes from the top of the key and hit another from the left wing before Jackson converted a three-point play to move Syracuse within 55-49 at 12:26.
The Orange had a chance to move even closer after Wayns and Dominic Cheek missed, but Jackson lost the ball out of bounds under the basket, wincing in dismay at the turnover.
Just over a minute later, Fisher drove the lane and then passed back out to Stokes for an open 3 from the top of the key that gave 'Nova a 59-49 lead with 9:31 left.
"It's the way it goes," Jardine said. "This is the Big East. This is one we should've won."
At the beginning of the season after a win over Canisius, Boeheim called this team the most overrated (the Orange were ranked 10th at the time) he's had in his 35-year tenure. After two straight losses in the conference, those words ring true.
"I told the players, right now we're not good enough to beat a top-five team," Boeheim said. "Early in the year, I had an opinion we weren't good enough. Now, it's a fact. Can we get better? I think we can. We still have a lot of work ahead of us to get better."