I apologize for the recent absence of posts, but we’re back on track.
For Villanova fans, it was a frustrating first half to watch. Maybe it was that our offense was having an off day, or the Red Storm defense at the perimeter and in the post was just that good. The Wildcats shot a lackluster 25.9% on the floor and to make matters worse, gave up 10 turnovers while the Red Storm just gave the ball up five times. A Ryan Arcidiacono three pointer would give the Wildcats a 12-6 lead to start off the game. The six point difference was the largest lead of the first half, as the Red Storm would come back. The lead would change hands frequently, much like the Butler game however it was not as clean of a game. Maybe a part of it was that we were unlucky. There were a few occasions that Villanova had multiple offensive rebounds in one possession but just could not get the ball to fall through the hoop.
Whatever the case was, the frustration was felt from the fans in the crowd to the bench, and from Jay Wright to the five Wildcats on the court. They could not get a spark to get a run going to give them some separation and momentum. The half ended with a Jamal Branch score off of a mid range jumper in closing seconds. There were a few more seconds on the clock as the ball laid on the ground until the buzzer went off signaling the end of the half, the Wildcats seemed disoriented looking at each other as no one tried to pick up the ball.
The second half was still close. One difference is that Jay Wright and the Wildcats had a different demeanor. Instead of getting frustrated with each mistake or basket that they gave up they stayed calm. Coach Wright gestured to his team to stay calm and just play Villanova basketball. Their patience and cool paid off as they would eventually get the opportunity to open the game up. Villanova was down 56-55 until Kris Jenkins drained a three pointer to give them the lead with 6:15 remaining in the second half. This would begin a 8-0 run that would give Villanova a 63-56 lead, their largest lead since the first half. A pair of JayVaughn Pinkston free throws and a big time Darrun Hilliard three pointer that closed the run. The Red Storm would call time out and the 8-0 run was what the Wildcats needed to get themselves going. It got them some breathing room and were able to hold the lead until the final buzzer sounded.
After Hilliard’s three, “Let’s Go Nova!” chants sprung up and erupted from different sides of Madison Square Garden. Villanova’s fan base was present today, and it appeared that there were more Villanova fans than St. John’s fans. Wildcat fans made themselves heard, and when looking out into the crowd, the dark navy blue outnumbered the bright red. Earlier in the game, I overheard a St. John’s fan sitting behind me say, “It’s a shame, this is supposed to be a home game but there’s so many of them. Our guys are getting booed out of their own stadium.”
Much to the crowd’s dismay, a foul was called on Hilliard that would send D’Angelo Harrison with 0.2 seconds left when the game was ultimately decided. Harrison was the top scorer of the day with 22 points, four rebounds, and a pair of steals. He would sink both free throws to make the final score 74-67.
For Villanova, five players scored into the double digits. Pinkston had a double-double and led the Wildcats in scoring with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Archie was sharp from long range (3-4) en route to putting up 13 points. Josh Hart chipped in another 14 points while grabbing five rebounds. Despite playing with limited minutes due to foul trouble, Daniel Ochefu had a solid game. He had 10 points and 7 rebounds, as well as a pair of blocks to go along with the day. He had a few dunks that sent Villanova fans into a frenzy. Hilliard also had 10 points, as well as four rebounds and three assists. James Bell had four points, but had 10 rebounds including four offensive boards before fouling out of the game.
The Wildcats come back home DePaul next Saturday, January 18, at 4 p.m. They are now 15-1 including a 4-0 record in conference play thus far.