At first, Villanova did little wrong in a game that seemed like an old-fashioned Big East game, even though Syracuse is playing its first season in the Atlantic Coast Conference. But Syracuse, which trailed by 18 points in the first half, used a 20-point run to gain a four-point halftime lead and ran off nine straight early in the second half to build a double-digit lead.
Syracuse (12-0) was the third unbeaten ranked team the Wildcats (11-1) had faced this season. Villanova handed then-No. 2 Kansas its first loss of the season a month ago in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis and came back the next night and defeated No. 23 Iowa in overtime.
Villanova dropped to 13-16 against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome, the best mark of any team that's played 10 games under the Orange's Teflon roof, and 4-5 since Jay Wright took over as coach of the Wildcats in 2001.
James Bell hit a career-high six 3-pointers and matched his career high with 25 points to lead Villanova before fouling out with 1:42 left.
In the second half, the Wildcats committed four fouls in a 59-second span. Cooney's 3 from the top of the key gave the Orange a 47-37 lead with 16:32 left and Fair's follow slam of a miss by Ennis kept the lead at 10.
Nova took advantage of a flagrant foul whistled against Jerami Grant midway through the period as boos rained down from the Carrier Dome crowd of 28,135, the largest of the season. Bell sank the two free throws and Josh Hart's 3 from the left corner closed the gap to 54-49 with 9:25 to play.
Villanova closed to 56-53 at 7:02 after Bell hit a 3 from the corner Daniel Ochefu's free throw and wouldn't wilt. Another 3 from the corner by Bell moved the Wildcats within 64-59 with 3:25 left, but the Orange made 14 of 16 free throws to thwart the Wildcats.
Syracuse finished 29 of 35 from the free throw line. Grant finished with 11 points for the Orange.
Hart had 10 points, the only other Villanova player in double figures. JayVaughn Pinkston, Nova's leading scorer at 16.5 points per game, had 3 points. Darrun Hilliard, averaging 14.4, finished with five points on 1-of-7 shooting before fouling out in the final minute.
Villanova has six players with at least 10 made 3-pointers this season, and the Wildcats torched the Orange early, hitting four straight from beyond the arc.
Syracuse struggled to create open looks and went nearly 4 minutes without a basket as the Wildcats extended their lead to 25-7.
If the Orange were frazzled by their largest deficit of the season, it never showed. They responded with a 20-0 run over the next 5 minutes to regain the lead as the Wildcats missed seven shots, committed three fouls and were called for a travel before losing the ball out of bounds. Cooney had 11 points and Fair added six in the spurt, which was capped by a driving layup by Ennis at 4:51.
The Wildcats trailed 34-30 at the half, not bad considering Pinkston had only three points on 1-of-3 shooting, his only make coming on a desperation 3 at the shot-clock buzzer in the final minute.