Providence vs. Villanova recap: Wildcats send Friars packing 91-61

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Jay Wright's team made quick work of the injury-riddled Friars with stellar defense, and their best shooting performance of the season.

Villanova jumped all over the Providence Friars tonight in the Wildcats’ (new) Big East home opener, 91-61. The final score was 91-61, and that outcome was never in jeopardy. The Wildcats came hurtling out of the gate, hitting 10 of their first 11 shots. Different players got in on the action, too. JayVaughn Pinkston scored the game’s first two baskets, and then Darrun Hilliard took a turn, scoring a quick eight points. They used a 10-11 start from the field to run out to an early lead, and it only continued to balloon the rest of the way.

Dylan Ennis scored 17 points on 4-5 shooting from three-point land. Hilliard added 15 points and Josh Hart recorded 10 points off the bench. Pinkston scored 19, looking like the monster in the paint that 'Nova fans are used to seeing.

The team used a combination of blistering shooting and an opportunistic defense that caused 12 first-half turnovers to jump out to that lead. That beginning set the tone for the rest of the game.

Jay Wright noted as much. The first thing he talked about after the game was how his team’s hot start won the game for them. "I think our start, kinda jumping on Providence like we did, had a big impact. Because obviously they’ve lost a number of guys, they don’t have a lot of depth. So when you get a lead like that, it’s tough for them to play from behind. It kinda all fell into place for us. I guarantee it won’t be like that for us when we go at Providence…we do have good depth, and it’s just tougher for them to play from behind."

That lack of depth really seemed to hamstring Providence. Bryce Cotton was clearly their best player on the court. He managed 25 points on 7-17 shooting, but he often seemed to be their only scoring weapon. Plus, he is not a tall guy by any stretch (he’s listed at 6-1, but in person he looks closer to 5-8). He really struggled to get his baskets. His quickness was obvious, but as soon as he would leave Arcidiacono or Ennis in the dust, Villanova’s help defense would collapse on him, forcing him to take a near-impossible floater. Tonight, at least, Providence did not give him any outside shooters to dish too, so he had to attempt to put the team on his back. No one else on the team helped him out. At one point, Tyler Harris even airballed a dunk. Poor guy.

There is a subtext to Jay Wright’s comments about Providence’s lack of depth. On November 6, The Friars suspended two of their freshman players, Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock. According to Sports Illustrated, although both players can continue to practice with the team, Coach Ed Cooley announced on December 23 that both players would be suspended for the rest of the season. In his statement, SI quoted him as saying merely that "we are disappointed in some of the choices that Brandon and Rodney have made."

Cooley did not seem any more eager to talk about those issues tonight. He was already emphatic about how badly his team had been outplayed. As he put it, "I thought Villanova played really well. I thought we played really bad. Obviously our worst game we played probably in the three years I’ve been here. We just didn’t play well, and they played exceptional…They’re making shots like that, they can beat the Globetrotters." When pressed about the suspended players, Cooley said only of each, "He’s a good guy."

In addition to their personnel problems, the Friars were also coming off back-to-back overtime losses, to UMass and Seton Hall. Perhaps because of this, they looked tired and overmatched for much of the game. Repeated overtime losses will do that to you. Nothing hurts worse than getting that close to winning, but still getting turned away. After Wright and the team’s scorching start, the Friars were so demoralized that they didn’t stand a chance.

Tonight, Villanova rode a mixed offensive attack to victory. Every Villanova player looked good, as the team combined their hot shooting with opportunistic defense to send the Friars into a post-holiday depression. Bryce Cotton was the main driving force for Providence, pouring in 25 points on 7-17 shooting along with 6 rebounds and 6 assists. LaDontae Henton had a nice game as well, chipping in 17 points and 5 rebounds.

This was unlike some of their previous outings.Against Syracuse, they went up by 18 points on the strength of their long-distance shooting, but then they went cold from three. They ended up losing the game, because they did not have another way to score. This game was different. Yes, they did take 26 threes, making 14. But Pinkston had 19 points, all from inside the arc. Against Syracuse, he was a mouse, with three points and two rebounds in 25 minutes. This mixed attack is much more effective. Especially when the long balls aren’t falling, a great team needs a reliable option to go to down low. Shooters can get cold, but post players are more resilient to slumps, since they shoot from such close range.

Wright said as much. "When you shoot a lot of threes like that, you’re going to have some nights when you look really good, and you’re going to have some nights when you look really bad. And those nights where you look really bad, you got to find other ways." This was not a night where they looked bad, not by any stretch of the imagination. As he put it, "When we shoot it like that, everything’s going to look good." The key is to make sure you have a go-to presence when your shots aren’t falling, and hopefully Pinkston can be that guy.

Wright, for his part, credited the defense. He and the staff used the Butler game as a teaching point, grinding the players through a few days of practice. "We had some really good practices coming back from Butler. We felt like in the Butler game, we played with a lot of heart, but there was a lot of things we didn’t do well. It’s easy to coach guys after a win, after a close win, where you know you could have lost the game. Two hard days of practice, and then we went a little easier yesterday, but I thought we really improved defensively in the last three days."

All in all, this game was one of Villanova’s more dominant of the last few years, even considering that it came against a team battling their own issues. Providence has more victories (seven) than any other team at the Pavilion, so it’s always nice to reinforce home court advantage. Especially after the loss to Syracuse and the close scrape against Butler, it is refreshing to see this team dominate as its fans were growing accustomed to (spoiled by).

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