Villanova played an absolutely dreadful first half. And then they played a decent second half, avoiding a bad loss while gaining confidence headed into the season's final stretch.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of ball movement, it was the age of turnovers, it was the epoch of three pointers, it was the epoch of missed free throws, it was the season of second half comebacks, it was the season of first half misery, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of losing to Columbia, we had the Big East Tournament and March Madness before us, we had the NIT before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct to Georgetown – In short, Villanova had a tale of two halves against Rutgers Monday night, beating the Scarlet Knights 71-63.
Villanova’s first half was one that it would love to soon forget. The ‘Cats shot 30 percent from the field, including two for 10 from three, and 50 percent from the line.
They had a 10-minute stretch in which they didn’t make a field goal. Maybe most remarkably, the ‘Cats went into the locker room down just ten.
"I thought we were tentative, we just gotta go out and play," Jay Wright said. "I wasn’t angry. Everyone was afraid to be the one to make a mistake."
The second half seemed to be a return to form for a team that prides itself on the ability to get to the line and play hard nose defense. More importantly, the ‘Cats were able to overcome a deficit that would almost certainly have ended its tournament hopes.
"All these experiences are big for us," Jay Wright said. "They are getting mature enough to win and learn, not to lose and learn."
Villanova notably committed zero turnovers in the second half as Rutgers' short rotation began to look worn down.
JayVaughn Pinkston had a Pavilion-rocking dunk that cut the lead to one. It was the type of dunk that told Rutgers that Villanova had seized control of the momentum, and the game. Then James Bell nailed a triple with 10:43 left in the second half gave ‘Nova its first lead since 8:36 in the first half.
"I wasn’t worried about missing shots, about the outcome of the game," James Bell explained. "I just get ready to take my shot, and then I shoot."
"We just have to trust each other, stick together and do what we do," Ryan Arcidiacono said.
The Wildcats, a normally strong team on the boards, got dominated in rebounds 32-23, with the Scarlet Knights having a 15-7 advantage on the offensive glass. Villanova also had one of its best games in terms of ball security, turning the ball over in only seven times to Rutgers’ 12.
Myles Mack led all scorers with 24 points.
"Mack is a nightmare to guard," Wright said.
NOTES: One of the issues in recent weeks is Wright’s tendency to give Croatian Mislav Brzoja minutes that are normally reserved for the longer, better shooting Achraf Yacoubou.
"When I want better ball handling and passing, I’m going to go with Mislav," Wright said. "When I want defense and better shooting, I’ll go with Yacoubu." Jay also said that Mislav’s minutes are increasing because he has started to pick up the offense. Wright didn’t feel comfortable with Brzoja earlier in the year for that very reason.