In a back-and-forth game between two highly ranked teams, No. 3 Villanova survived its first true road test of the season by beating No. 15 Purdue, 79-76, in the first of eight other Gavitt Games. Jalen Brunson, who finished with 10 points, was able to hit four straight free throws at the end of the game to seal the victory.
Going into the game, Villanova head coach Jay Wright knew that it was going to be one of the toughest tests of the season. Purdue has one of the tallest frontcourts in the country, led by 7-2 junior Isaac Haas and 6-10 sophomore Caleb Swanigan.
Due to Villanova’s lack of height, the Wildcats placed an extra effort in defending Haas and Swanigan, while hoping they would end up in foul trouble. They were successful as Haas and Swanigan were periodically taken out of the game, granting the Wildcats opportunities to go on the attack.
When Haas and Swanigan returned to the floor, it was all hands on deck. Multiple players crashed the boards and helped out inside. Additionally, the Wildcats had significant production from sophomore Eric Paschall. Although he had just 11 points off the bench, it was his defensive play that was able to keep Haas in check and keep Villanova in the game. He was able to frustrate him in the paint, limiting Haas. However, Paschall played a limited amount of minutes due to his own foul troubles. He would eventually foul out of the game, and Haas was able to get to work with him gone, coming back with a revitalized second half effort after being quieted in the first.
The game was like a heavyweight championship boxing match, as both teams were scoring back and forth. Villanova would take a ten-point lead with 7:11 to play in the first half after a Darryl Reynolds layup. He would finish the game with 12 points and eight rebounds. Purdue then went on a run to even the score at the end of the first half, capped off by a half court buzzer-beater from P.J. Thompson to tie it up at 39.
In the second half, Josh Hart took over for the Wildcats, scoring seven points in the first five minutes, giving Villanova a 56-45 lead. He went on to finish with a game-high 24 points, and was able to heat up in crucial stretches of the half.
However, Purdue would not go away quietly. The Boilermakers came fighting back by dumping the ball down low to Haas, who scored 16 of his 22 points in the second half by using his size advantage to dominate in the paint. Villanova struggled to produce an answer to slow down the giant center. Meanwhile, Swanigan had a stellar performance as well, finishing with 20 points and eight rebounds.
Despite quieter performances from Kris Jenkins and Phil Booth, the Wildcats were able to grind it out on defense and make key baskets when it mattered most. They also received additional help from sophomore Mikal Bridges, who scored seven points off the bench, and hit two free throws with 43 seconds remaining in the game to give Villanova a 75-72 lead. While Haas scored back-to-back baskets for the Boilermakers to cut the score to one on two possessions, Brunson’s four straight free throws proved to be the difference maker at the end of the game.
Purdue did have one last chance to salvage the game at the end, down by three, but the Boilermakers’ last attempt was no good.
Villanova will take on Western Michigan in the opening round of the Charleston Classic on Thursday. Tip-off is at 11:30 a.m.