To have a run such as Villanova had over the past five days – knocking off a pair of top five teams – takes special performances, not from just one player but from several.
The Wildcats boasted a long list of standouts Saturday in their 75-71 overtime victory Saturday over third-ranked Syracuse at the Wells Fargo Center, with sophomore Darrun Hilliard, junior James Bell, senior Mouphtaou Yarou and freshman Ryan Arcidiacono all deserving.
Hilliard set the tone early in Villanova’s 10-0 run with seven points and finished with career highs of 25 points, seven rebounds, six assists and 38 minutes, with zero turnovers. Bell came alive in overtime with eight points, including back-to-back three-point baskets that gave his team the lead for good.
Yarou scored 14 points and tied a career-high with 16 rebounds, including the offensive board that he kicked out to Arcidiacono in the left corner for the game-tying three-pointer with 2.2 seconds left in regulation. Arcidiacono hustled the entire game at the defensive end to slow down Orange point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who shot just 4-of-17 from the field and committed five turnovers.
“It’s starting to create a level of consistency for us, a high level of consistency which, to be a good team in this league, you have to have,” said Villanova coach Jay Wright, whose team had come off a 73-64 victory over No. 5 Louisville on Tuesday night.
“You’re still going to lose games. In this league, you’re going to play at a high level of consistency and you’re still going to lose some games. But if you’re not playing at a high level of consistency, you’re going to lose a lot of games. This (high level) is where we’re starting to get to. That doesn’t mean we’re going to win every game. This means we’ve got a chance to be a good team in this league.”
The 6-foot-6 Hilliard played a complete game, shooting 8-of-11 from the field and 3-of-6 from the three-point arc. In Big East play, he is hitting at nearly a 56 percent clip (19-of-34) over his last four games after going 6-of-28 (21.4 percent) in his first three.
Asked if he had lost confidence during his poor stretch, Hilliard replied “Not at all.”
“Coach Wright and the coaching staff and the players all have confidence in me. So there’s no reason for me to lose confidence in myself. There were a couple of things I had to work on but as long as I was playing defense and playing hard, then everything was fine.”
Bell had been 2-of-9 from the field before he drained a pair of threes on consecutive possessions in a 49-second span of overtime. He also cut along the baseline and took a pass from JayVaughn Pinkston for a layup.
“He’s got amazing guts, this kid,” Wright said. “He really takes responsibility for our team. He’s a leader off the court. He’s got to talk to everybody. I talk to him and Mouphtaou. He’s an amazing young man. That’s how you win big-time games, when you have guys like that. He’s got great character and great guts.”
Yarou, who scored 14 points, posted his second double-double in as many games against Syracuse this season. It was his third of the season and 16th of his career. Half of his 16 rebounds Saturday came at the offensive end.
Arcidiacono described Yarou as “just a beast” in grabbing the rebound and passing it out to him for the shot that forced overtime. But the rookie wouldn’t take credit for his defense on Carter-Williams, saying, “It was our whole team. He got by me a good amount but my teammates were there to pick him up.”
Nova notes. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said that with his team holding a three-point lead in the final seconds of regulation, he decided against fouling the Wildcats and putting them on the line for two free throws instead of risking a game-tying three-pointer. The Orange played with a smaller lineup after 6-foot-8 Jerami Grant and 6-10 Baye Moussa Keita fouled out. “We had such a small lineup,” he said. “I was worried about fouling with 13 or 12 seconds left. I think we’re going to have trouble getting the rebound. I thought we defended it well.” … The victory was the 250th for Wright at Villanova, where he is now in his 13th season. … Pinkston, the Cats’ leading scorer, put up a quiet nine points, nine rebounds and four assists while battling foul trouble late.