The Syracuse faithful stood and roared their approval.
For those Orange fans that made the trip from upstate New York to the ones who remember Waiters playing ball as a kid, he gave them a performance to savor in his homecoming. The Philly native scored 20 points and No. 1 Syracuse remained undefeated with a 79-66 win over Villanova on Wednesday night.
"It was great coming back to the city where you were born," Waiters said. "All my family and friends were here. It was priceless."
Priceless -- and perfect.
James Southerland added 15 points for the balanced Orange, who are 18-0 for the second straight season. The Orange (5-0 Big East) used a 20-2 run to dominate the struggling Wildcats.
Waiters has flourished in a reserve role and has forced himself into early contention for conference player of the year honors. He was 8 of 13 from the floor and punished a Villanova team still trying to find its way.
"I told him he could score as many points in 22 minutes as he can in 30 if you just do what you do," coach Jim Boeheim said.
Waiters looked sharp in the second half after an awkward landing moments before halftime. He immediately grabbed his ankle and hobbled off the court with help from a team official. He sat on the bench for the first 4 minutes of the second half, stretching with an ankle strap before he returned.
He could have rested.
The Orange had this win wrapped up by halftime, even as their starting five accounted for only 18 points. Yet, the Orange held a 19-point lead because Waiters, the top reserve in the Big East, had his way with the Wildcats, hitting a pair of 3s and scoring 14 points.
"I wanted to win, that was first and foremost," Waiters said. "But I was excited that everybody was here to see me play."
Scoop Jardine buried a running 31-footer at the buzzer to send a decidedly pro-Orange crowd into a frenzy and Syracuse into halftime with a 43-24 lead.
There was plenty of room for Syracuse fans as only 14,877 showed in the NBA arena that used to be packed to rafters for Villanova.
Villanova (8-9, 1-4) lost for the fourth time in five games and has put its streak of seven straight NCAA tournaments in serious jeopardy. Mouphtaou Yarou had 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Wildcats.
The Wildcats have not been ranked all season and were only picked to finish in the middle of the Big East. But not even coach Jay Wright expected his underclassman-heavy lineup to struggle and his three starting juniors to greatly underachieve.
"It's just inexperience," Wright said. "We don't understand yet, but we're getting there. We didn't quit. Sitting here saying we didn't quit is not a good situation if you're pulling that as a positive."
Maalik Wayns, who came in leading the Wildcats with 17.4 points per game, did not score until he sank three free throws with 3:42 left in the first half. The Orange gave Wayns and the rest of the Wildcats nowhere to drive. On one play in the first half, Wayns started from the top of the 3-point arc, dribbled into a wall of Orange at the free-throw line, and was forced to dish out.
Wayns finished with no field goals and three points. He could share the blame in this one.
After Dom Cheek tossed up an airball, Syracuse grabbed the loose ball rebound and Waiters went down and buried a 3. Later in the first, Yarou was knocked to the ground and had the ball stripped from his hands. Syracuse took off running and Southerland shot a 3. He missed, easily outhustled two Wildcats to the loose ball, stepped back and buried a 3 during Syracuse's game-changing run.
Waiters, Jardine and Rakeem Christmas are all Philadelphia natives and the stands were littered with family, friends and old coaches.
They didn't regret their choice to leave home.
"They recruited me heavily so I know a lot of their people," Jardine said.
Waiters gave them a reason to cheer in the second half when he intercepted a pass and thundered down the court for a monstrous dunk and a 58-41 lead.
He had the same fastbreak dunk for a 20-point lead later in the half and waved his hands toward the crowd for them to get loud.
His ankle looked fine -- it was just tweaked -- and so did Syracuse.
Led by Waiters and Southerland, the Syracuse bench outscored its starters, 47-32.
"We don't talk about it much, but we have guys we think are starters," Boeheim said. "We want them to act like starters when they go in and play like starters."
The last time the Wildcats played a No. 1 team, they beat UConn on Feb. 13, 2006, at the Wells Fargo Center. That game was played in front of 20,859 fans and most of them stormed the court after the win.
The upper deck was pretty empty Wednesday night and most of the Wildcats fans departed with about 5 minutes left.
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