VILLANOVA, PA 5/3/2012 – The Villanova Wildcats and the Syracuse Orange met in the Big East Tournament semifinal round. The game meant more than a trip to the finals. The winner could lay claim to an NCAA Tournament at-large bid should they not win the tournament outright. The #17 Wildcats may have come to the end of the road as the Orange dominated earning a 15 – 6 win at Villanova. Coach Mike Corrado felt his team ran into a team that played better than his team.
“They outplayed us in every facet of the game,” said Corrado. “It’s a tough way to end our season for a group of seniors that gave so much to our program. It’s pretty tough.
Syracuse got off to the good start each team was looking to get. Midfielder Bobby Eilers scored the first two goals of the game, but Senior attack Kevin Cunningham got the Wildcats to within 2 – 1 with 38 seconds to play in the first quarter. It remained a one goal game until Syracuse midfielder, and resident of Villanova, Matt Walters scored with ten seconds to play until halftime giving his team a 6 – 4 lead at intermission. Syracuse Coach John Desko felt the halftime lead took the pressure off his squad.
“The lead at halftime helped us,” Desko said. “We’ve been playing from behind. We came out and won the faceoffs and kept the pressure on. Then we played composed.”
The Orange scored three of the first four goals of the third quarter, with Walters scoring again, to lead 9 – 5. After three-quarters Syracuse led 10 - 6.
“They came out on the second half and did a great job on faceoffs,” said Corrado. “They got out on a run and we couldn’t get the ball back. That was tough. You start pressing and give up high percentage shots.”
The Orange put the game away in the fourth quarter scoring 5 goals, and totally frustrated Villanova on offense.
The biggest problem Villanova could not overcome was a 41 – 22 advantage Syracuse had in Ground Balls. Many of those came in face off situations. Quite simply, Villanova could not get the ball or sustain possessions needed to have a chance to score and get back in the game. Syracuse got into a comfort zone coasting to the win.
“It was the second half,” Desko said. “The ground balls, that’s a huge stat. We played with a sense of urgency, and played smarter.”
“We didn’t get enough touches.” Cunningham said explaining the lack of offense. “Their faceoff guy did a great job in limiting our possessions.”
“That had a huge impact,” Corrado said about the ground balls disadvantage for the Wildcats. “That’s a two to one advantage they had, and that allowed them to control the tempo and have long possessions. There were times in that game when we did not have the ball for long stretches. It’s tough to come back when you can’t get the ball.”
Eilers led Syracuse with four goals. Attack Tommy Palasek had a goal and three assists. The Orange had 36 shots and faced 30 from Villanova. Goal Keeper Bobby Wardwell made 12 saves.
For Villanova Junior Attack Jack Rice scored two goals. Cunningham got a goal and an assist.
The season may have ended for Villanova as they finish 8 – 7. An at-large bid may have eluded them over the past tow games. Corrado is not optimistic that his team will play another game this season.
“With St. John’s playing Syracuse in the championship one of them will get an automatic qualifier and Notre Dame will get an at-large,” Corrado said. “That doesn’t help us very much. You never know what will happen, but this did not help us tonight.”
Syracuse will play in the championship game against St. John’s who upset top seeded Notre Dame 8 – 7 in the first semifinal. With the win by the third seeded Orange meant the top two seeds in the tournament were defeated in the opening round of play.
Written By: Glenn Papazian