SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP)—With the number of chances Syracuse had in the final seconds, Villanova coach Jay Wright figured one of the shots was bound to go in.
To Wright’s relief, Syracuse’s Eric Devendorf, followed by Paul Harris and finally Jonny Flynn all missed 3-point attempts in a furious final 10 seconds, allowing the 12th-ranked Wildcats to hang on for an 89-86 victory over the 24th-ranked Orange on Sunday.
“We had no control. I was just watching and praying,” Wright said. “After the first shot, I thought we were OK. The next two, we were just scrambling.”
The Wildcats didn’t begin celebrating until shortly after the buzzer sounded and Flynn’s shot from the left corner bounced harmlessly off the rim.
“They got some good looks. Sometimes you’re lucky, sometimes you’re not,” Wright said.
Dwayne Anderson scored a career-high 22 points—including two key baskets during what proved to be a decisive 11-0 run midway through the second half for Villanova.
Corey Fisher added 16 points and was one of six players to score in double digits for the Wildcats (22-5, 10-4), who won for the eighth time in nine games and took another step in securing their spot among the top five in the heavily contested Big East Conference standings.
“Relief?” Anderson said, repeating the question. “A Big East road win, so yes,”
Devendorf scored 22 points and Harris added 21 for Syracuse (19-8, 7-7), which dropped to 2-6 in its last eight.
“We battled about as well as we can battle at the end,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “I liked our chances with the shots we got. We got good looks, the whole game.”
Trouble was, the Orange couldn’t connect.
Unable to work inside against the Wildcats’ swarming defense, the Orange were limited to taking outside shots and attempted a season-high 39 3-point attempts—14 more than they had attempted in a game this season—while hitting only 12.
Syracuse also proved sloppy, allowing Villanova to score 21 points off 15 turnovers.
Though the Wildcats led most of the game, the Orange mounted numerous comebacks after trailing by as many as 12 points in the first half, and 10 in the second.
The momentum shifted midway through the second half after the Orange used a 14-2 run to take a 59-57 lead when Flynn set up Andy Rautins for an open 3-pointer in the right corner.
Anderson broke a 59-tie with a 3-pointer with 11:27 left. A little over a minute later, Anderson capped the run with a dunk on a transition break following Flynn’s second consecutive turnover at the other end, putting the Wildcats up 68-59.
“We just came together,” said Villanova’s Shane Clark, who had 15 points and eight rebounds. “We didn’t change anything and just went out there and defended.”
The end had its nail-biting moments, but the Orange couldn’t find the basket after Devendorf hit a 3-pointer and followed with a layup cutting the Wildcats’ lead to 88-86 with 16.5 seconds left.
After Villanova’s Reggie Redding hit one of two free throws, the Orange missed their final four shots.
The Orange ran out of steam attempting to play catch-up for most of the game. It didn’t help that Flynn was off his game after missing practice the past two days because of illness.
“We had the momentum. I really thought we had a chance to win, down three and with all the 3-point shooters we have,” Harris said. “I thought we’d make at least one, but we just missed. It’s hard coming from behind.”
The Orange have lost five straight against ranked opponents, and dropped to 14-3 at home this season.
The loss also prevented Boeheim from passing Dean Smith to become the first coach to register 31 20-win seasons at the Division I level.
The 22 wins matched the Wildcats’ total from last year, and marked the fourth straight season they have won that many games. Villanova also completed a season-series sweep of the Orange, following a 102-87 victory at Philadelphia on Feb. 7.