Villanova began its quest to defend its Big East Tournament title, starting with a Thursday matinee against longtime rival Georgetown. Throughout the history of the tournament, the Wildcats had never beaten their foes, going 0-5 against the Hoyas entering Thursday.
The Wildcats’ fortunes changed for the better, as they finally got the elusive postseason win over Georgetown. It wasn’t easy, however.
Villanova shook off a slow start to beat Georgetown 81-67 in the Big East quarterfinals.
Georgetown took advantage of an ailing Daniel Ochefu, who suffered a sprained ankle during practice on Tuesday. The 6-foot-11 center hobbled at times and visibly appeared to be affected by it.
“He tried a little bit,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “I think it got tweaked again. We have to rest him up and see if he will be better tomorrow.”
With Ochefu injured and playing limited minutes, the Hoyas were able to find success in the paint on both ends of the court early. From there, it opened up the rest of the floor and all they had to do was find the open man. Georgetown got some timely 3-pointers to fall and score from inside the paint.
Villanova couldn’t get a single offensive board in the first half. 7-foot Georgetown center Bradley Hayes was problematic for the Wildcats, as they did not have the size to rival his. Hayes did not play in the two team’s previous meeting to close out the regular season.
His presence was felt on the glass as Georgetown held a 42-30 rebounding advantage.
The game went back and forth throughout the first half. Villanova was able to snatch the lead going into the break, clinging onto a narrow one-point lead as Kris Jenkins sank a last-second three to close out the half. The Wildcats led 28-27 going into the locker room.
The tide turned for Villanova after the break. Georgetown came out hot directly after the break, but it didn’t last long.
“Teams do a good job of trying to get to Ryan, Josh, and Kris,” Wright said. “That was part of the first half, we just couldn’t get those guys going. We just had to play defense, hang in there and break free.”
L.J. Peak knocked down a corner 3-pointer to give Georgetown a tight 47-46 lead with 10:30 remaining in the game. However, that would be the last time that the Hoyas ever held the lead for the season.
Villanova finally found its rhythm on offense, getting off to a 14-1 run to surge ahead of the Hoyas. On the other end of the court, Villanova took care of its duties on defense. The Wildcats were able to get stops, box out their opponents, and turn steals into scoring opportunities.
“We were right there,” Georgetown head coach John Thompson III said. “It just happens. It didn’t go in, and they capitalized. Every time we missed a bunny, they made us pay.”
The Wildcats generated a fourth of their scoring output off of turnovers. They outscored the Hoyas 20-1.
Jenkins, Josh Hart, and Ryan Arcidiacono proved to be a formidable trio, as all three upped their production in the second half. They combined for 39 of Villanova’s 52 second half points and were deadly in transition.
“They definitely got us in transition,” Georgetown guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera said. “It’s hard for any team to cover the three-point line in transition, as well as guys getting to the rim.”
For Villanova, Hart led the way with 25 points off of a 7-of-12 shooting performance. Arcidiacono chipped in 19 points and was an efficent 5-of-7 from long range. Jenkins added 15 points and four rebounds.
As for the Hoyas, Peak finished with a team-high 18 points and four rebounds. Hayes added 13 points and nine boards.
Villanova advances to the semi-finals, where it will take on the winner of Providence-Butler.