After shooting 7-for-11 from 3-point range in the first half, Rutgers made just one of their first 12 shots of second half and just one shot from beyond the arc, allowing Villanova to convert a 4-point halftime deficit into an 70-49 victory. Villanova played their best defense in Big East tournament history tonight, and are now 1-0 as a 14-seed, snapping a three-game losing streak in the conference tournament.
"Great defensive second half for us," Wright said. "Monday afternoon, we had everybody at practice for the first time, and we're just having fun."
Villanova held Rutgers to just 29.1% shooting in the game, which is the best-eve field goal defense in a Big East tournament game for the school. That defense was vice-grip tight in the second half, holding Rutgers to a paltry 15 points. They made just 3 baskets in the second half and just 4 after sticking 5 consecutive 3-pointers in the first period.
The adjustment in the second-half was a simple one.
"Just extended out on them a little bit more," Wright explained. "They were 7 for 11, so we just extended on them, and our forwards had to do a good job if we got beat on the perimeter, and Mouph and Mo Sutton did a great job in the paint."
Rutgers' 14 second-half points matched the second-fewest by a team in Big East tournament history.
"When you make only three baskets, that's how it does," Rutgers coach Mike Rice explained. "I don't know how many lay-ups it was, but it was a ton of missed lay-ups and opportunities. The execution wasn't there. We didn't execute like we did in the first half for some odd reason."
Maalik Wayns took a wrecking ball to the Rutgers defense, scoring 28 points and dishing out 4 assists on 50% shooting from the floor and 13-of-14 shooting from the free-throw line. Wayns also grabbed 6 rebounds.
"Great composure all night long," Wright said of Wayns. "A couple of plays where he gets a little excited, but he really did a great job, and I really think Ty Johnson did a great job."
Wayns was helped by Ty Johnson who spent 26 minutes on the court, often at the same time. That allowed Wayns to move off the ball in the second half and took some pressure off of the junior guard, who rightfully garners much attention.
"It allows me to get off the ball a little bit," Wayns noted. " It allows me to not be blitzed and double teamed on ball screens. A lot of our offense is ball screens."
"When I get a chance to get off the ball, I can make plays for other guys or go one-on-one. I can get my shot, I can do different things, instead of just being up on the ball all the time."
Johnson scored 7 points and had just one assist in the game, but his impact was felt on defense as well, where he made hustle plays and brought a level of defensive intensity that Villanova needed to handle the talented Rutgers guards.
"I think all three of those guys are great players," Wayns said of Eli Carter, Dane Miller and Jerome Seagears. "I'm surprised none of them were on the All-Big East rookie team."
Mouph Yarou struggled at the free-throw line, making just 3-of-8 attempts, but performed admirably on defense for the Wildcats. He also managed a double-double with 12 rebounds and 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting. Maurice Sutton added 6 points in the post and was able to provide a scrappy performance in 23 minutes of play.
JayVaughn Pinkston was a disappointment, however, nearly fouling out of the game. He scored 6 points and grabbed 4 rebounds, but turned the ball over 7 times — accounting for half of the Wildcats' 14 turnovers in the game. According to Wright, his ankle still isn't back to 100%.
"JayVaughn is hurt, and his ankle is just not right and he doesn't say anything. It's still swollen. I a saw it and I said, I don't know how he's playing. The trainer says he can play. He's hurt. He's terrible."
Another Villanova regular was held to just two points in the game. Dominic Cheek didn't take a single shot in the first half. He played well against Rutgers in their last meeting, and was essentially a decoy tonight.
"I said, 'I could use a couple more threes out of you,'" Wright joked after the game. "He played great defense and rebounded."
"I think they really stuck with him, and it helped off of him and allowed us to go inside and drive, and he just played offensive rebounding."
After being beaten on the boards in the first half, Villanova played better in the second-half and ultimately won the battle 43-29. Most of that work was on the defensive glass, however as both teams grabbed 14 offensive rebounds. Villanova outworked the Scarlet Knights 8-5 on the offensive boards in the second half.
Rutgers was led by guard Eli Carter, who scored 23 points in the contest and had 3 steals. No other Rutgers player broke into double-digits.
Prior to tonight, no 14-seed had ever won a game against an 11-seed in the Big East tournament. It was Villanova's first ever appearance as the 14-seed.
Villanova will advance to face USF for the third time this season tomorrow night in the second-round. The Wildcats have lost their last three meetings with the Bulls, including a 69-70 loss in the opening round of last season's conference tournament.
"The're a good team," Wayns said of USF. "They control the glass, they control the tempo, they slow the game down. We've got to try to speed them up, turn them over and just do what we do. We can't do anything different. We've just got to come in and do the same thing we did the last two games, just try to do it better."