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courtstormin Nova Nation storms the court after Wildcats upset the Orange, 75-71 (Kristina Sumfleth/The Villanovan)

by Mark Mullany

Sophomore guard Darrun Hilliard led the ’Cats with 25 points to an upset win over the Syracuse Orange, 75-71, last Saturday, in an overtime thriller at the Wells Fargo Center.

Hilliard was the foundation of the Wildcats’ success, but the clutch outside shooting down the stretch by freshman guard Ryan Arcidiacono and junior guard James Bell clinched the defeat over Syracuse.

“The  threes were big for us in overtime and the last one in regulation was obviously huge,” Coach Jay Wright said. “The job done by Mouphtaou Yarou to get the offensive rebound so that he could get the ball out there to [Arcidiacono] was a great play.”

With 13.5 seconds remaining in regulation, losing 61-58, Wright used his final timeout to draw up one more play. Bell received the ball at the wing and launched it from behind the arc. The shot looked perfect until it bounced off the rim.

Before all hope was lost, senior center Yarou grabbed the board and dished it to Arcidiacono in the left corner. With Syracuse sophomore guard Michael Carter-Williams defending him, Arcidiacono heaved up a desperate 3-pointer to tie the game.

At 61 apiece, the Big East Rivals entered into overtime.

The two squads traded the lead three times before Hilliard inbounded the ball to Bell, who hit the go-ahead 3-pointer from the corner. The score favored ’Nova, 66-64, and the Wildcats would not relinquish the lead for the remainder of the game.

On their next possession, Yarou passed the ball from the paint to Bell at the wing. He sank another 3-pointer, pulling the ’Cats away at 69-65.

The Orange’s senior guard Brandon Triche connected on three foul shots to bring the game within one, but redshirt sophomore JayVaughn Pinkston found Bell cutting to the hoop, allowing Bell to lay it up off the glass, putting ’Nova ahead by three, 71-68.

Yarou fouled out on the next play, putting Carter-Williams on the foul line. He went one for two behind the line and Syracuse had to intentionally foul to keep its hope of winning alive.

Pinkston, Hilliard and Arcidiacono sealed the game from the charity stripe, ending the contest at 75-71, completing the ’Cats second top-five upset of the week.

“What a week for us,” Wright said when describing his team’s victory over No. 5 Louisville and No. 3 Syracuse.

The last time the ’Cats beat two top-five teams in the same week was in the 1985 NCAA Tournament, when the Wildcats downed No. 5 Memphis State in the semi-finals and defeated No. 1 Georgetown in the Championship game.

Hilliard ignited ’Nova to a 10-0 lead by scoring the first seven points for the ’Cats to open the first three minutes of the Big East battle.

In the first possession of the game, Hilliard pump-faked behind the arc, spun to the basket and connected on the layup. Shortly after, Hilliard was goaltended on a breakaway layup.

The next time he got the ball on offense, he pump-faked again and sank a 3-pointer. To close the run, Bell hit an NBA-range 3-pointer, forcing Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim to call a time-out.

After the Orange cut the defecit to six, Pinkston was fouled and connected on one of his two free throws.

In the next possession, Yarou softly laid the ball up over the basket, making the score 18-9.

Shortly after, Hilliard used another pump-fake, but this time it was to give an assist for a close-ranged Yarou jump shot. Then, Hilliard buried another 3-pointer.

Pinkston finished the 10-4 run by connecting on a put-back, after surviving a block from Syracuse junior center Baye Moussa Keita.

This put-back gave ’Nova its largest lead of the game, 25-13, with 7:12 left in the first half.

While ’Cuse went on a 13-6 run to end the half, the Wildcats entered halftime with a 32-26 lead.

The Orange took a lead at the 14:23 mark in the second half and had its largest lead of six points with 4:25 left in regulation.

Hilliard had an impressive stat night for ’Nova, going eight of 11 from the field. He finished the game with 25 points, seven rebounds and six assists.  This stunning performance led to him being named the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week.

Behind the sophomore in point totals stood Yarou, who finished with a double-double of 14 points and 16 rebounds.

Other Wildcats in double-digits were Bell and Arcidiacano with 13 and 10 respectively. Pinkston also contributed nine off the bench and grabbed nine rebounds.

The ’Cats outrebounded the Orange, 50-41. The Wildcats shot much better from the field than the Orange. ’Nova shot 44.1 percent, while Syracuse converted 33.3 percent.

The most telling statistic of the game was the amount of 3-pointers the Wildcats sank.

This season, ’Nova is undefeated when they connect on at least six 3-pointers. They made nine against the Orange, making the ’Cats 10-0 when they hit six from behind the arc.

’Nova returns to the Pavilion this Sunday at noon to host the Providence Friars in a Big East rematch from Jan. 19, where the ’Cats lost, 69-66, after having 12-point lead.

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