Before Monday night, Villanova had never won a game on Martin Luther King Jr. day.
The holiday, which celebrates and honors King, as well as promotes a time of service and reflection, had also been marked by a number of heartbreaks on the court. Just look at the games played in recent years on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
In 2011, the Wildcats lost in a thriller to Kemba Walker and his UConn Huskies. Three years later, Doug McDermott and Ethan Wragge seemingly drained every single shot they took from beyond the arc in a blowout win over the ‘Cats. The following year, Villanova received a beatdown by its longtime rival Georgetown.
In each of those games, Villanova had been ranked in the top 10. This year, not only was Villanova in the top 10, it was ranked number one in the AP Poll.
Their misfortunes changed on Monday night, when the ‘Cats managed to beat Seton Hall in a 76-46 victory on the night before classes resume at the Catholic University.
Since the National Holiday was first observed in 1986, the Wildcats never once pulled out a win. The Wildcats, and their coach, were unaware of this fact.
“Well that’s great news,” said senior Darryl Reynolds, with a big smile on his face, “Thanks for telling us that.”
The Wildcats were on a mission tonight, leaving any doubt of a loss in the first half of the game. The recent string of slow starts that the team has become known for was left behind tonight, as they pulled away to an early 25-7 lead. Once they dashed out in front from the opening tip, the Wildcats could hardly look back.
By the time the Pirates settled in, it was far too late. Villanova held a 36-23 lead going into the break.
In fact, the 3-of-14 Pirate start is what doomed them early. It was in large part due to the revitalized effort by the ‘Cats and their seniors, who set the pace.
“It was these guys,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “Hart and Reynolds–the seniors set the tone.”
It only got worse for Seton Hall, as the ‘Cats dominated the rest of the game–not letting up for a second.
It was a tough way for the Pirates to end an eight-day road trip, playing three games in the last six days. They were, understandably, tired.
Despite that, Desi Rodriguez was able to have a good night. The 6-6 junior forward led Seton Hall with 15 points. It was a nightmare rematch for the Pirates, who had to do without Big East Tournament MVP Isaiah Whitehead (drafted to the Brooklyn Nets). They could have used him tonight, but even he alone probably couldn’t have changed the outcome.
“That’s a tough team to play,” said Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard in regards to Villanova. “They’re the number one team in the country for a reason.”
For the Wildcats, the victory was pretty well spread out throughout the team, as five players scored in double figures.
Senior Kris Jenkins had a team-high 16 points and four rebounds. With 13 points, two rebounds and six assists, sophomore Jalen Brunson had a great showing in front of a packed Pavilion crowd. Josh Hart had 11 points and four rebounds, with three assists as well. Eric Paschall and Donte DiVincenzo chipped in 10 points each.
With the win, the Wildcats will retain their No. 1 ranking—a revelation they discovered during a pregame meal.
“It’s just a number.” said Jenkins. “We gotta do what we do.”
And that they did. The Wildcats were in front of their home crowd, and their students for the first time in about a month. With the student section filled to the brim, the cozy arena had a much more different feel to it than it had in recent weeks.
“We were good tonight and it was good to have our students back,” Wright said. “It’s a different atmosphere when they are in there. I’m proud of our seniors – great leadership.”
Next up for the ‘Cats is a matchup at the Wells Fargo Center, where they will take on Providence this Saturday. Tip-off is at 12 p.m.