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Cunningham scores 31, leads Villanova past Syracuse

Feb 7, 2009 - 10:44 PM PHILADELPHIA (Ticker) -- Dante Cunningham and red-hot Villanova rolled to another easy win over Syracuse.

Cunningham matched his career high with 31 points on Saturday afternoon, leading the 16th-ranked Wildcats to a 102-85 victory over the 20th-ranked Orange in a matchup of Big East rivals headed in opposite directions.

The 6-8 Cunningham shot 12-of-15 from the floor, made 7-of-12 free throws and grabbed nine rebounds to pace a balanced effort for Villanova (19-4, 7-3 Big East), which is on a five-game winning streak and has won four of the last five meetings with the Orange (18-6, 6-5).

"Dante is learning how to be a really confident offensive player," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "I was really happy he kept shooting the ball."

Since losing three of their first five Big East games, the Wildcats have roared back into sole possession of fourth place in the conference standings. Villanova will host eighth-ranked Marquette in another high-powered Big East contest Tuesday night.

"We've just got to go out there and play," Cunningham said. "Every game's a big game just because Villanova's playing."

Corey Stokes finished with 16 points and eight rebounds, Shane Clark chipped in 14 points and 10 boards, Corey Fisher scored 14 and Scottie Reynolds added 10 points for Villanova, which reached its highest point total ever against Syracuse.

"We just can't afford to give them easy baskets," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "It wasn't really our defense as much as it was our offense was so poor."

Although he also scored 31 points against Fordham earlier this season, Cunningham essentially delivered his finest collegiate performance in this one.

Matched up against imposing Syracuse center Arinze Onuaku, Cunningham paced a Villanova squad that shot 55 percent (36-of-66) from the floor, scored 40 points in the paint and enjoyed a 46-37 edge on the glass.

Jonny Flynn scored 22 points while Eric Devendorf chipped in 21 to pace the struggling Orange, who have lost four of their last five contests.

The 6-9, 275-pound Onuaku finished with just four points and five rebounds. The junior entered averaging 11.5 points and 7.7 rebounds per game this season, but has been plagued by tendinitis in his left knee recently.

Villanova opened the contest on a 12-2 run and never looked back. The Wildcats led by as many as 21 in the first half and entered the break with a 53-38 cushion.

Syracuse did not quit in the second half and clawed within 90-79 on Andy Rautins' 3-pointer with 4:48 remaining. But the Wildcats responded with an 8-2 run capped by Reynolds' layup that made it 98-81 with 2:23 remaining.