While a win against Villanova would give Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim the most 20-win seasons in Division I history, he is probably more concerned with getting his team to bounce back from a frustrating stretch before the end of the regular season.
Boeheim seeks his 791st win Sunday afternoon as the No. 25 Orange host the 12th-ranked Wildcats in a Big East matchup.
Boeheim began his coaching career at Syracuse in 1969 as an assistant under Roy Danforth before taking over the team in 1976. He has recorded 20 wins in 30 of his 32 seasons, tying him for the all-time lead with Dean Smith, the legendary former North Carolina coach.
Boeheim probably didn’t figure it would take this long to reach 20 victories this season, especially after Syracuse (19-7, 7-6) started 16-1. The Orange, though, have lost six of nine since Jan. 14, playing six Top 25 teams during that stretch, including then-No. 17 Villanova on Feb. 7. Syracuse lost that game 102-85, giving up a season high in points.
After a difficult stretch against some of the Big East’s elite, Syracuse took advantage of a struggling Georgetown team on Feb. 14. The Orange, however, didn’t make it easy, nearly blowing a 16-point second-half lead before prevailing 98-94 in overtime. Jonny Flynn scored 25 points and Eric Devendorf added 23, including eight in overtime.
“I am just happy that we won this game,” Flynn said. “This game was full of every emotion from happiness to being scared to death. The game was a big roller coaster ride. It just feels good to win a game.”
Syracuse is looking to win two straight for the first time since a seven-game streak Dec. 17-Jan. 10.
The Orange, though, will have to find a way to stop Dante Cunningham, who matched a career high with 31 points against them earlier this month.
Cunningham has averaged just 11.3 points since that win, however, and shot only 29.4 percent (5-of-17) in Villanova’s 82-72 win over Rutgers on Thursday.
The Wildcats dropped their previous game, 93-72 to West Virginia on Feb. 13.
Scottie Reynolds scored 21 points Thursday while Corey Fisher added seven of his 14 in a two-minute span in the second half to turn a two-point deficit into a 63-56 lead.
“It’s a good Big East win, man,” coach Jay Wright said. “We were just battling.”
Reynolds, who went 10-of-11 at the free throw line and also had six assists and two steals, had been held to 12 or fewer points in five of Villanova’s previous seven games. He’s second on the Wildcats in scoring (15.5).
The 72 points Villanova gave up were the fewest allowed in five games, even though it allowed Rutgers to shoot 52.1 percent. The Wildcats are holding opponents to 39.9 percent shooting this season - third-lowest in the Big East.
Despite its recent struggles, Syracuse is among the nation’s best shooting teams at 48.6 percent.
“Obviously we’ve got to get better defensively,” Wright said. “But that’s been one of our problems. We’ve got to get better at that.”
Syracuse is 14-2 at home this season but has lost two of its last three to Villanova at the Carrier Dome.