The Hawk is dead, and Villanova killed it. For the fourth year in a row, Villanova has won the Holy War in resounding fashion. It wasn’t always pretty, but this was the first true road game of the season after all. Yet the Wildcats were unfazed, defeating their jealous rivals for the tenth time in the last twelve seasons under Jay Wright. They improve their overall record over the Hawks to 47-25.
Hagan Arena is always a hostile environment when Villanova visits. Perhaps it’s the intimacy comparable to a high school gym. It’s probably more likely the fact that the Holy War is the biggest game of the year for St. Joe’s no matter what. Yet, still this game had a special buzz. Since the Hawks returned to hosting the game on campus after Hagan Arena was renovated in 2010, Villanova had not entered the game as a top ten team, until last night. Hawk Hill thus had visions of an upset dancing in their heads all through the night.
From the tipoff to final buzzer, the plot was much the same: St. Joe’s had their moments of excitement, yet Villanova maintained a steady lead throughout. Echoing the last three Holy Wars, the Wildcats shot well from behind the arc in the first half. With Daniel Ochefu in foul trouble early, Ryan Arcidiacono and Josh Hart took over in what has become a familiar sight. The Hawks grinded out a few buckets right before the half to cut the lead to ten, but victory was already slipping through their hands.
St. Joe’s came out clawing to start the second half. Over a span of three minutes, the Hawks went on a 12-2 run to close Villanova’s lead to five. The sellout crowd was shaking the tiny fieldhouse with the Main Liners on their heels, for the game was suddenly competitive. Two Villanovans emerged to take back the lead: Arcidiacono played the role of wise senior, omitting a presence of calmness that pervaded the court in the face of chaos. Jalen Brunson, only a freshman, played the role of reliable leader as well, hitting threes and driving to the hoop with the speed of a SEPTA train ten minutes late. Together they gained all the previous lead back and more. Kris Jenkins also added 18 points on the night, proving that even without a big man such as Ochefu on the court, this team can still score in diverse ways. It was Villanova’s defense that ultimately killed the Hawks though, as it has often in this early season.
Rivalry games mean hostility, of which Hagan Arena was not lacking last night. Catholic-themed banter between fans fueled the opposing factions. St. Joe’s flaunted the Pope’s visit of a few months ago at every available opportunity. In response, the small yet loud brigade of Villanova fans taunted the St. Joe’s student section with chants of “This is Our House,” “Nova Rejects,” and “We Can’t Hear You,” much to the ire of Hawk Hill.
Jay Wright’s team has now rolled to an impressive eleven straight Big 5 wins. Even though this was a road game in a unfriendly environment, Villanova only traveled six miles down the Main Line to play what amounts to an average mid-major. Next week the Wildcats will fly 5,000 miles to Hawaii to play Oklahoma, one of the best teams in the country. This team therefore needs to make more than a quick turnaround: it needs to ensure that its game is ready to handle and defeat the two nationally ranked challengers it faces this month.
In the meantime, we fans can rejoice once again that The Hawk Is Still Dead, and Villanova owns Philadelphia basketball.