Villanova came out on fire. James Bell hit three threes in the first four minutes and the Wildcats jumped all over a Syracuse team that looked like they hit the snooze button too many times. It was 25-7 with 10 minutes left in the half, and the Orange looked like they were going to get steam-rolled in their own building.
And then it all changed.
Villanova settled for too many quick threes as the Syracuse zone eliminated any kind of penetration, the Orange were able to get out into transition and before you could say ‘Baye Moussa Keita’, the Orange went on a 20-0 run, holding Villanova scoreless over the course of seven minutes. That surge would continue into the second half, as Syracuse would end up winning 78-62. Do the match, and over the course of the last 30 minutes of the game, Syracuse outscored Villanova 71-37.
Trevor Cooney led the way for the Orange with 21 points, but it was the play of Tyler Ennis stabilizing the Syracuse attack that made the difference. He had 20 points, slicing up the Villanova defense during the first half come back and setting the table for his teammates in the second half.
Ennis added two assists and didn’t turn the ball over. On the season, Ennis has just 13 turnovers despite playing more than 32 minutes per game as the primary ball-handler. He’s also a freshman, which makes his performance just that much more impressive. Syracuse is the No. 2 team in the country and looks every bit a national title contender. I think we can all agree that they wouldn’t be in this position without Ennis. Not only does he belong in the same conversation with the likes of Julius Randle, Joel Embiid and Jabari Parker when talking about the nation’s top five freshman, other than Marcus Smart, I’m not sure that there is a point guard in the country that is unquestionably better than Ennis. Aaron Craft? Maybe. Jahii Carson and Shabazz Napier? There’s an argument to be made.
At worst, Ennis is probably a top five point guard nationally. Think about that.
Ennis is a different breed of point guard. He’s not overwhelmingly explosive. He’s not lightening quick or 6-foot-5. He’s not a pure scorer or a pure passer. He’s just a smart player that understands change-of-pace and knows when he needs to score and when he needs the Orange to run offense.
He’s the perfect fit for Syracuse. He’s their most valuable player, the biggest reason the Orange look like the best team in the ACC.
He proved it again on Saturday.