For the second time this season, I bravely ventured into the den of another team’s home court, and walked out victorious. It’s not easy work, defending the wall. But someone has to do it.
For some reason, Seton Hall has not been an easy opponent for Villanova during my four-year tenure on the Main Line. Especially not in Newark. After fourteen years of consecutive wins against the Pirates, Seton Hall has become our kryptonite. First, that fateful Big East tournament two years ago. Then in overtime last year to spoil our undefeated season. Not this night though. Villanova repelled the Pirates’ vicious siege, and remain undefeated in the Big East, a full two games ahead of the rest of the hungry pack.
Many of us Villanovans may be disappointed after the game we watched. After all, Villanova played down to yet another sub-par opponent. Their performance was unbecoming of a top five team, they say. I, however, am encouraged. Demolishing easy opponents behind hot-shooting is always great. But, there will be plenty of games when the shots aren’t falling, and the other team is playing like their hair is on fire. As this is Villanova we’re talking about, this happens far too often. These are the games that make champions. And, as we saw last night, Villanova has the ability to win these close games. That’s what makes a winning team. That’s what makes a long March run.
Let’s talk about the game. First, the set: rabid Pirates everywhere. I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised by the turnout of Seton Hallers. A couple thousand strong in the student section, and two grandstands full of alumni (I think it’s a safe assumption that there are no off-the-Newark-street Seton Hall fans—only loyal alumni). They had an upset in mind, already dreaming of watching their Pirates on the SportsCenter highlight reel for the first time since they beat us last year.
The game started close, but Villanova was able to build a solid lead through ten minutes in. It’s refreshing to see how well this team has opened big games ever since their slow starts earlier this year. However, apparently all steady Villanova starts come at a price, for we then let the Pirates easily storm back to even the game, just like in the recent Marquette and Georgetown games.
From a close halftime score, the second half played the same narrative as the first. Every time Villanova would build a lead, the Pirates would knock it down like a bully on the beach who wrecks sandcastles. One run was entirely Isiah Whitehead, who put the Hall up by two with a three pointer at the 2:30 mark. That’s when things got interesting. Instead of giving up and walking the rest of the plank the Pirates had cornered Villanova onto, both teams decided to trade buckets down the stretch. That meant a tie game with a minute to go, only broken by the most clutch player on the court, Ryan Arcidiacono, who hit an unassisted layup with 30 seconds left. I like to think the screaming encouragement from the fans in section 11 had something to do with that. Seton Hall had their chances, but then again we had our chances to put it away too. Ochefu proved he’s the least clutch free throw shooter by missing both shots, but made up for his offensive woes by making a monster block on the other end to save the lead. After a series of inbounds, Seton Hall missed their halfcourt shot and Villanova preserved a one-point lead for the win, by far the closest victory of the season.
As much as this team made me nervous down the stretch, it was an undoubtedly entertaining game. It’s games like these that make going to away games so fun. Of course, the heckling is all the better when your team is victorious.
As I high-fived strangers wearing Villanova apparel on my escape out of Newark, I could not help but wish I had gone to more away games during my time as a student-fan. So, I address the underclassmen reading at this time to be not afraid and venture out to other arenas to watch Villanova play. These are exciting and triumphant times to be Villanovan, so go forth and cheer on this team and your college as we witness greatness!