Is this really the same Villanova team that lost to Columbia by 18 points on Nov. 20?
Guard James Bell hit two key three-pointers in overtime to lead unranked Villanova to a 75-71 win over No. 3 Syracuse at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Penn., on Sunday.
The win is Villanova’s second over a Top 5 team this week, having already beaten No. 5 Louisville on Wednesday, 73-64. They become the first unranked team since Ball State in 2001 to win two straight games against teams ranked in the nation’s Top 5, according to ESPN Stats and Info. During that season, Ball State did not make the NCAA tournament.
The victory improves Villanova to 13-7 overall and 4-3 in Big East play.
On the final Villanova possession of regulation, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim chose not to foul with his team up three, 61-58, with 0:08 to play.
Bell missed a three-pointer, but forward Mouphtaou Yarou grabbed an offensive rebound and kicked it out to freshman Ryan Arcidiacono in the corner. Arcidiacono hit a contested three pointer to tie the game at 61 and send it to overtime, where Bell and the Wildcats were able to grind out a win.
Guard Darrun Hilliard had a career-high 25 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the floor. Arcidiacono finished with 10 points.
Villanova shot out to a quick 10-0 lead to begin the game, spacing the floor and working the ball into the paint to create space for open looks on the perimeter.
Hilliard found his stroke in the first half with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting at the break. He carried the Wildcats in the first half, along with Yarou, who had six points.
The Villanova defense did a good job of disrupting Syracuse’s scoring trio of Brandon Triche, C.J. Fair, and Michael Carter-Williams, each of whom shot just 2-of-8 from the floor in the first half.
Syracuse struggled from the floor and did not finish well around the rim, except during an 8-0 run that pulled the Orange to within four points, 25-21, with 3:30 to play in the first half. During that stretch, Villanova was held scoreless for over five minutes.
Villanova held a six-point halftime lead.
After trading baskets early in the second, Syracuse went on a 12-4 run to gain its first lead of the game and extend the lead to four points, 45-41, with 11:47 to play.
Syracuse began to attack the basket more consistently during that run and earned trips to the free throw line, but were outrebounded, 44-35, on the afternoon.
Down the stretch of the second half, Syracuse slowed down its offensive sets and milked the shot clock.
The Orange looked for a spark from guard Brandon Triche late and he delivered with 23 points and six rebounds after a slow first half, but offensive woes in the final minutes were difficult to overcome.
Over the course of four offensive possessions in the last three minutes of regulation, Michael Carter-Williams turned the ball over twice, missed a runner in the lane, and missed a key free throw that would have made it a two-possession game, but the lead remained at 61-58. That left the door open for Arcidiacono’s game-tying three.
Carter-Williams finished with 16 points, but shot just 4-of-17 from the floor and turned the ball over four times. He and the rest of the Syracuse team struggled from the free throw line, going 18-of-34.
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Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_