Despite facing its largest deficit of the season, Syracuse overcame a horrid start to remain undefeated.
Now the Orange look to extend an impressive streak in their final tuneup before opening ACC play for the first time.No. 2 Syracuse aims for a 51st consecutive non-conference home win on New Year's Eve when it hosts Eastern Michigan.The Orange (12-0) had been relatively untested heading into Saturday's home matchup with then-No. 8 Villanova, claiming their first 11 wins by an average of 14.4 points. They fell into a 25-7 hole, however, as the Wildcats hit their first four 3-point attempts.Syracuse responded with a 20-0 run and never trailed the rest of the way in a 78-62 win, handing Villanova its first defeat. Coach Jim Boeheim's team hasn't lost at home in non-conference play since a 72-69 setback against Cleveland State on Dec. 15, 2008."We stepped up big-time," Boeheim said. "This was the first adverse situation (this season) where we were really down a lot."The Orange's defense cooled off Villanova, which finished 19 of 50 from the field. Syracuse's last five opponents are shooting 38.8 percent.Trevor Cooney, Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair led a balanced scoring effort with 21, 20 and 17 points, respectively. Syracuse was 29 of 35 from the free throw line after coming in shooting 67.6 percent from the charity stripe."Getting behind like that against a team like Villanova, it's tough to come back," said Cooney, who was 5 of 8 from 3-point range and is 20 of 35 (57.1 percent) over his last five contests. "It shows a lot about us."Syracuse plays its first ACC game on Saturday against Miami, but first looks to knock off Eastern Michigan (7-4) for a third consecutive year. The Orange won the past two by identical scores of 84-48, holding the Eagles to a combined 31.8 field goal percentage.Eastern Michigan has gone 0-12 on the road against ranked opponents since an 89-83 overtime victory over No. 21 Michigan on Dec. 17, 1997. The Eagles have lost all three of their contests against Top 25 teams this season, falling at Kentucky, against UMass and most recently an 82-59 defeat at Duke on Saturday.Rebounding continues to be a huge issue for the Eagles, who surrendered a 47-32 margin on the boards to the Blue Devils -- the seventh time in eight games they've been outrebounded.Eastern Michigan is being outrebounded by an average of 13.6 boards in its three games against ranked teams."I thought we did a great job of showing and forcing them into some contested shots," said Eastern Michigan coach Rob Murphy, a former assistant under Boeheim. "But we gave up 20 offensive rebounds. ... To be successful, ultimately, the way we play, we have to rebound the basketball and we didn't do a great job of that tonight."Leading scorer Karrington Ward (15.0 ppg) had 11 points on 3-of-9 shooting and was 4 of 8 from the foul line. He's averaging 9.0 points and shooting 32.0 percent against ranked teams compared to a 17.3 point average on 51.2 percent shooting versus unranked foes.Fair, Syracuse's leading scorer at 17.8 points, has struggled in his two contests against Eastern Michigan, totaling 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting. He enters this one having shot 50.0 percent or better in five of six games.