Villanova extended its winning streak over Penn to 9 straight after a 73-65 win over the longtime Big 5 rival. The 'Cats played well in the first half and went into the intermission leading 38-20, but the Quakers weren't ready to quit just yet. When the second half started, they began a steady climb back into the game, chipping the lead as low as 4 points with under a minute left.
"I think our first half showed us what we could do, now we just need to do that for 40 minutes against [Missouri on Tuesday]," coach Jay Wright told reporters.
In the first half, Jay Wright pulled Maalik Wayns off the court after 9 minutes when he committed a particularly unnecessary offensive foul, but still managed to continue to pull away from Big 5 rival Penn. The 'Cats were up only 15 to 10 over the Quakers when Ty Johnson replaced Wayns on the court, but they took an 18-point lead into half-time.
"I think Maalik set the tone for our team defensively, and that was important," Wright said. "When they see a captain out there flying around, defending, taking charges, diving on the floor, then they all play that way.
"I think Ty [Johnson] saw that. I thought what Ty did a good job with was getting the ball to Mouph and getting the ball to shooters – even though he scored. He also did a good job on Rosen. Rosen finished with 21, we had Wayns on him, Ty Johnson on him, Ash Yacoubou on him and Darrun Hilliard on him. It took 4 guys for 40 minutes to guard him."
Rosen was held to just 6 points on 2 made field goals in the first half as the Villanova defense keyed in on the Quakers star. Rosen was such a target that he didn't even record an assist until the second half. He finished with 21 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 steal.
"We played well enough to win in the second half, we didn't deserve to win the way we played in the first half," Rosen told reporters. "We played maybe 7 minutes of Penn basketball today, we have to extend that out and play 40."
"We didn't defend well enough to win in the 40 minutes."
Wayns had to sit because of foul trouble, but he didn't score any points in the first half (or take any shots) and didn't score until the last 10 minutes of the game. After 8 minutes in the second half, he had 0 points, 3 assists, 4 turnovers and 3 fouls. He scored 11 points in the second half, which was 3rd most on the team. He also had 2 steals and 2 rebounds.
"I thought Maalik was just outstanding tonight in terms of running the team," Wright said of the point guard. "He was getting people involved all game and at the end of the game he made free-throws, he made passes, and that was something we needed to do.
"I thought we stood around and watched him too much out in California, and other guys weren't being aggressive. I think Darrun stepped up today, and Cheek didn't shoot it that well, but he was aggressive taking shots."
Mouph Yarou was key for the Wildcats, however, and no player on Penn's roster could easily match-up with him. When Villanova fed him the ball, he would score easily. He finished with 21 points to led the team and had 11 rebounds for his 4th double-double in 7 games. 14 of his points came in the second half.
"I thought he did a good job playing through the physicality," his coach said. "He had no turnovers in the game, and for a guy who's getting beat up like that in there."
Yarou didn't get tired despite the physical game inside and without Maurice Sutton and Markus Kennedy to spell him inside, his 33 minutes were important. Wright said he had been limited in previous games due to that.
Sutton should be out for 3 weeks based on estimates provided. Kennedy could be available if needed, but Wright would prefer if he were fully healthy.
"I'm worried about Kennedy, I saw the collision between him and JayVaughn; he got a stinger. He couldn't lift his arm. We're going to need him on Tuesday."
Darrun Hilliard led the team in scoring at halftime with 8 points and finished second on the team with 13. He also had 5 rebounds and showed good hustle to grab them. Hilliard shot 50% from deep on 4 attempts to lead the 'Cats in both made 3-pointers and total 3-pointers (they shot 30.4% from deep and an abysmal 7.7% in the second half).
Dominic Cheek struggled shooting from distance again against Penn. He went 1-8 from beyond the arc (12.5%), but hit 2-of-3 from inside the arc. Most troubling, however, was that Cheek did not get to the free throw line against the Quakers, where he had been doing much of his damage this season.
"Dominic Cheek was 1-for-8 from three," Wright acknowledged. "I know he's going to make shots; we need him to take them and for defenses to fear him."
Penn struggled with shooting themselves, going 0-10 before finally connecting on their first of 7 attempts. they shot 31.8% from deep for the night, based entirely on a late-second-half hot-streak that saw them connect on 7 shots, including a pair of triples with under a minute left on the clock that gave the fans remaining in the stands a few heart palpitations.
Villanova was able to maintain composure down the stretch and stay in the lead, despite the late Penn charge.
"Honestly, I understand how everyone else responded to the late-game collapses, and that's what they were, but when we watch them on film we see what happened, we understand what we did. It's a matter of playing those games out.
"Sometimes that stuff is going to happen, but I think our guys are confident at the end of games. I like the way we attacked their pressure. I liked the way we went to the foul line."