If this game were a painting, you could buy it for five dollars at Ikea. It wasn't pretty for either team, and Villanova's 'shoot 'em up, sleep in the streets' game-planning wasn't helping the situation as the Wildcats missed too many early on. They took a five point lead into half-time and the teams played to even after the break, ending with a 65-60 Villanova victory.
"That was old-school Big East, man," Jay Wright said. "That was fun."
"We haven’t been pretty in either one of [the last two games], but we’ve found a way."
It looked like another potential Creighton-style steamrolling after the opening tip as Georgetown hurried to an 8-0 lead. Nothing the Wildcats shot in the first few minutes was working, and the Hoyas couldn't seem to miss. Jay Wright called a timeout to settle the 'Cats down, and they responded with a 9-0 run to come back into the game, taking a lead for the first time, and not the last, as the Hoyas stuck around through most of the half.
"Tonight, I thought our inside game was working pretty well. We weren't making threes, but Georgetown is the number-one defensive three-point field goal percentage team in the conference."
"They really run great stuff offensively. They really pick great mismatches and exploit them. They got one skip pass to Cameron, and I thought Ryan Arcidiacono did a good job of helping and getting back to him."
In what may be the statistical definition of ugly basketball, Villanova and Georgetown combined for 22 first-half turnovers and just 22 field goals. Georgetown committed 14 of those turnovers and 9 fouls, eight of which came quickly, putting the Wildcats into the bonus in what seemed like no-time. Things eventually evened out on the foul line, with the Wildcats collecting 8, mostly later in the half.
"Both teams are so physical and so tough. That game was played within new rules, you know and I think both of us are learning how to play that way," explained Wright. "Their length and physicality defensively caused turnovers and no one else has done it like that to us. I thought down the stretch we played really good defense. Sometimes you've got to win that way."
The teams scrapped through the second half, and neither was quite sure what was going to be a clean play or a foul. Restless fans booed and groaned at a staff of referees who were quick to blow their whistle and occasionally unsure of why they blew it.
It didn't hurt that Georgetown cooled down from outside in the second half. After shooting 44.4% from deep in the first half, the Hoyas watched nine attempts bounce off the rim after the intermission, making just 2-of-11. Villanova's shooting efficiently was also worse in the second-half, but the Hoyas kept sending 'Nova to the charity stripe, gifting them 22 points on 28 free throw attempts.
The Hoyas were charged with 23 fouls, seven more than Villanova, and they only had nine free-throw attempts. Despite making almost all of their free-throws, 8-of-9 just wasn't enough.
"When they changed the rules, we've always been a very aggressive defensive team, so we probably spent more time this year on just doing everything with our hands off," Wright explained.
"We've got to figure out how to get fouled," Georgetown's coach John Thompson III noted. "We're getting in the paint. I mean, all year, a lot of things are designed to get penetration, to get drives, to get balls into the paint. We've been consistently getting the ball into the paint, now we just need to figure out how to get to the foul line."
Fouls were only part of the story, however. The teams combined for 34 turnovers, with the Wildcats committing 16 of them in an uncharacteristic performance.
"That was tough, it was physical, but Georgetown's defense was great," Wright exhaled. "We had 16 turnovers, we haven't done that, we've been pretty good taking care of the basketball.
"I thought they played great defense tonight, and I thought we did too. I thought in the first half our press was good, but they solved that, and then in the second half I thought that our defensive rebound at the end pulled it through."
At the end, it was a Markel Starks foul that was the dagger. With 35 seconds remaining, Starks was dinged for an offensive foul on James Bell after passing the ball under the basket. The Wildcats took possession of the ball and with no time left, the Hoyas were forced to foul and stop the clock — and the threat was effectively ended for Villanova.
Daniel Ochefu had another strong offensive performance in the first half, leading all Villanova players with eight points. He finished with 12 points, tied for second on the team, going 5-for-5 from the floor.
"He's probably our best defensive player in terms of all the things he can do," noted Wright. "He's always been a great passer, but now he knows he can score and it makes him an even better passer because now people have to respect him as a scorer. He's worked really, really, hard, and I'm proud of him."
James Bell led all Wildcat scorers with 16 points, going 3-of-6 in the second half to keep the Wildcats' offense afloat. His shooting down the stretch helped the Wildcats build up the five-point lead that they finished with.
"He's [Tahj] got ‘onions,' as Raf says, and everyone on our team knows that," Wright laughed. "He's got incredible range, I know it looks crazy, but he makes those a lot and he's hit so many shots for us."
A late pair of free throws by Pinkston eliminated any chance of a miracle for Georgetown with just 5.6 seconds on the clock. The Villanova lead maxed out at 7 points, but the 'Cats allowed point guard Markel Starks an easy layup as time expired — chalk that one up to defensive indifference for 'Nova.
"Playing on the road is hard. You can look at any conference and all the good teams go on the road and no matter how good they are, they get beat," Wright told reporters. "We know we can get beat, but as long as we battle until the end..."
"I think they really have great character and mental toughness, they really do," he said about his team's bounce-back from a loss with back-to-back narrow road wins. "There's a lot of challenges, you know? When you win a couple games and you get things going good, and then you get smacked in the face and you get knocked down, how you respond is important."