It was a new day, a new opponent. Last night didn’t matter anymore. VCU and Oregon were just two teams of the past, what mattered was who was left standing at the end of the night. Tonight’s Legends Classic finale was reminiscent of a much bigger tournament that takes place in March. You would have thought you were in the wrong place because the Barclays Center looked like an NCAA Tournament matchup was going on. It’s ironic – the last time these two teams met was back in the 1985 NCAA Tournament. Not only did Villanova win that night, but they won it all.
The beginning of the game resembled that of a boxing match. Both teams were testing the waters, getting a feel for each other. It was close, neither team was able to establish any separation. Each team was able to quickly match and respond to what the other did. With 4:41 remaining in the first half, Dylan Ennis was fouled as he made a layup in traffic. He missed the subsequent free throw, keeping the game tied at 20. However, he would make up for it shortly after. Michigan’s D.J. Wilson went up to dunk the ball. The smaller Ennis soared to new heights to meet him and reject the dunk attempt. Ennis’ block was the leading highlight of a strong defensive effort that held the Wolverines to just a 29.6 shooting percentage in the first half. The play served as a spark for the Wildcats. They would close out the half with a 9-0 run and take a 27-20 lead into the break.
The halftime intermission didn’t seem to be enough in order to cool the Wildcats down. They picked up right from where they left off, draining baskets as Michigan continued to struggle. Approximately two minutes into the second half, Villanova built their highest lead of the game. JayVaughn Pinkston cleanly stripped Caris LeVert of the ball and took it all the way to the other end for a resounding dunk. Villanova had a 13 point lead over the confused Michigan Wolverines. Coach John Beilein called for a time out as he tried to get his team back in the right direction. After the quick break, the ball bounced out of bounds but remained Michigan ball. They struggled to get the inbound pass off, leading them to burn another time out. However, they still couldn’t straighten out their issues. The Wolverines would burn their third consecutive time out in just a matter of seconds, leaving them with only one left. This time, they would get the pass off and it would result in a Zak Irvin jumper to end the drought.
It wouldn’t stop there. Shot after shot began to fall for the Wolverines. An 11-2 run cut Villanova’s lead to just four points. Dylan Ennis would knock down a corner three to stop the bleeding, but it wouldn’t provide enough comfort from the barrage of baskets that would come from Michigan. A three point basket by Spike Albrecht gave the Wolverines their first lead of the second half. Jay Wright would call a time out, but the Wildcats continued to force and take questionable shots as Michigan took advantage. There were also multiple instances in which the paint was left unguarded. A Michigan player simply had to just wait by himself under the basket to receive the pass and make the easy dunk. Later in the second half, a jumper by Derrick Walton Jr. gave the Wolverines an eight point lead with 5:59 remaining in the game. It was the largest lead that the Wolverines had all game long.
On the following possession, Ryan Arcidiacono sank a shot from beyond the arc to cut into Michigan’s lead. Little by little, Villanova started chipping away at the deficit. An Ennis three pointer eventually tied the game up at 51 with 2:44 remaining. Shortly after, Josh Hart was fouled attempting a layup. He missed the first one, but made the second to give Villanova the lead once again. However, much like most leads in this game, they didn’t last very long.
Caris LeVert responded with a nice jumper, to which Pinkston quickly answered with a basket of his own. On the following possession, Michigan looked to LeVert once again and he did not disappoint. He created his own space, much like he did on many occasions tonight. He gracefully dribbled in before rapidly stepping back out to create space. LeVert pulled up for the mid-range jump shot and watched it seamlessly plop right through the basket.
Villanova now had less than a minute to create an answer of their own. Michigan had challenged them all throughout the game and they were able to respond. Time was dwindling. They needed to play with a sense of controlled urgency. A wide-open JayVaughn Pinkston received a pass and began to drive towards the basket. His eyes widened at the opportunity. However, a Michigan defender slyly placed himself in front of Pinkston and took the charge. It was devastating but the Wildcats quickly pressed forward. Mark Donnal caught the deep inbound pass and was quickly double teamed before he was fouled. Presented with a one-and-one, Donnal also had the chance to extend Michigan’s lead to three. Instead, he missed the front end of the one-and-one and Villanova collected the rebound. The Wildcats called a time out in order to set up their next play.
The Wildcats looked to Pinkston, who received the pass and proceeded to post up on his opponent. The defender hit the floor in an attempt to draw a charge, but there was no foul called. Now by himself, he sank the easy layup. Villanova now had a one point lead with 16 seconds left. Michigan would have last licks and an abundance of time to come out with the win.
On the following possession, Walton started driving towards the right side of the basket. He tried to put up the shot, but instead the ball went off the hand of Dylan Ennis and out-of-bounds. With 7.8 seconds left, Michigan had to inbound the ball. A pick was placed on Ennis by Caris LeVert. As he broke through, he appeared to be shoved to the ground by Zak Irvin. No whistle was blown and Irvin received the inbound pass. Now with an open lane, the basket was all Irvin’s – or so he thought. Irvin went up with the ball as JayVaughn Pinkston turned and swooped in to block what could have been the game-winning basket. The Michigan bench was stunned and their fans were speechless. Ryan Arcidiacono sank a series of free throws to put the game away permanently. The final score was 60-55.
Dylan Ennis was named tournament MVP. He led Villanova in scoring with 15 points, three rebounds, and two blocks. JayVaughn Pinkston put up another solid performance at Barclays with eight points and nine rebounds. Daniel Ochefu was a force in the paint, finishing with 10 points, four rebounds, and a pair of blocks.
For Michigan, Caris LeVert had a game-high 16 points. Zak Irvin chipped in 11 points. Sophomore Derrick Walton Jr. added 10 points, five rebounds, and four assists.
Villanova improves to 5-0. They resume action this Sunday, November 30th, when they play Delaware at the Wells Fargo Center. Tip-off is at 4:30 p.m.