A crowd of 18,369 that provided an electric atmosphere Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center had to think in the closing moments of regulation that Syracuse was going to turn out the lights on seventh-ranked Villanova's undefeated season.
But the Wildcats, who never led and trailed for all but 24 seconds in regulation, dug deep to score five consecutive points to send the game into overtime and then controlled the extra period with defense and free throws to pull out an 82-77 win over the Orange. Villanova improved to 11-0.
It was a game reminiscent of the battles the two teams waged annually in the old Big East Conference. Physical play resulted in a bloody nose for the Wildcats' Josh Hart and a possible concussion for teammate Darrun Hilliard, who had a nasty spill chasing a loose ball in overtime.
In what was being considered a down season for Syracuse (6-4), the Orange led by as many as 15 points in the first half. But they needed one more stop and one fewer turnover in the final 17.2 seconds of the second half to pull off the upset after Trevor Cooney's two free throws had given the visitors a 69-64 lead.
"It was very unusual. . . . A lot of people were saying, 'Oh, you should handle them,' " Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "Syracuse-Villanova, it's never been anything but what we just saw. They're a good team. Their three losses were to good teams. They played well - they played really well.
"We have upperclassmen, mainly JayVaughn Pinkston and Darrun Hilliard, who just carry our team. We're very fortunate to have seniors like that. That was probably the difference."
Pinkston scored 25 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and also starred at the defensive end. In overtime, he drew a charge on Tyler Roberson with the Wildcats up by three, then blocked a close-in shot by Kaleb Joseph two possessions later.
Hilliard scored 23 points, including eight straight in a 10-0 run that got Villanova back into the game. Hart, a sophomore, added 21 points and went 9 of 11 from the free-throw line.
Hart's biggest basket of the game - a three-pointer from the left side - narrowed the gap to 69-67 with 10.8 seconds remaining in regulation. Syracuse did not inbound the ball cleanly after the basket and Pinkston came up with the steal, dished to Ryan Arcidiacono (nine assists, zero turnovers), got a return pass, and hit a reverse layup with 4.2 seconds to play.
The Wildcats took their first lead of the game, 71-69, on Hilliard's two free throws 57 seconds into overtime. They hit just one basket, by Pinkston, but held on to a tenuous lead with 11-of-12 free-throw shooting.
"It came down to that one play, and we didn't get it inbounds," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "That's what happens sometimes."
Rakeem Christmas, a former star at Academy of the New Church, and Michael Gbinije scored 18 points apiece to lead Syracuse. Cooney added 17.
The Orange shot 63 percent in the first half and led by 41-26 late in the period before settling for a 43-31 halftime lead. The Hilliard-fueled 10-0 run got Villanova back into the game, but the Cats weren't able to catch up until the end of regulation.