Villanova Wildcats found themselves in a scrap against Bucknell Bison on Thursday night. After jumping out to a 14-point lead in the first half by way of forcing 13 turnovers, the Wildcats let the Bison hang around for most of the second half. They had no answer for Chris Hass, who led all scorers with 32 points.
"There are no moral victories," said Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen, "because when you have the opportunity to get the win, you need to get it." Bucknell drops to 1-2 on the year.
The key plays were made late in the game by Villanova, who once again struggled with their shooting. First, Daniel Ochefu recorded back-to-back blocks to protect a one-point lead. On the next possession, Darrun Hilliard pressured Hass in to a turnover that allowed Villanova to get the ball back. Hilliard made one final steal on the next Bucknell possession to ice the game for the Wildcats.
Early in the matchup, the Wildcats looked aggressive and up-tempo. At the first TV timeout, the Bison were scoreless on 0-5 shooting. They committed 3 turnovers in the first few minutes, too. The Wildcats had their own shooting woes going on as they were 8-21 (1-9 from three) and 5-9 from the charity stripe. Luckily Bucknell couldn't find a rhythm either.
In the middle of the first half, Bucknell went on a mini 6-0 run that brought the deficit down to 8. For most of the first half, JayVaughn Pinkston sat out because he picked up 2 quick fouls. This meant Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds would share time at the forward spot. Reynolds would only play 4 minutes tonight as he, too, committed 2 fouls.
To end the first half, J.C. Show hit a three to cut `Nova's lead to 7. Miscommunication by the `Cats would mean they did not get a shot off before the clock ran out, and Bucknell had their heads held high.
Both teams struggled to start the second half too, but back-to-back threes by Chris Hass and John Azzinaro cut Villanova's lead from 7 to 1. Darrun Hilliard would later hit a three to break a 42-42 tie.
Villanova's biggest lead for a while would b 49-43 thanks to threes from Ennis and Josh Hart. But once again Chris Hass saved the day and kept Bucknell just inches away from the Wildcats.
At the final TV timeout with 3:56 remaining, the score was tied at 56. Bucknell's stellar 51% shooting compared to the `Cats' subpar 38% kept the game neck-and-neck. Both teams struggled from threes (Bucknell's 4-11 and Villanova's 5-21) and free throws (9-15 to 16-26) overall, so neither squad could jump ahead to a comfortable lead.
Down 63-62 with 1:51 remaining, who else but Hass hit a clutch 3-pointer to put Bucknell up by their largest margin of 2. Their luck would run out there, however, as they went scoreless for the rest of the game. Arch was able to draw a foul seconds late, hitting both FT's to put tie the game at 65. Darrun Hilliard's fantastic defense around the perimeter forced Hass to turn the ball over out of bounds, and Villanova was quickly fouled on the inbound pass. That's where the `Cats went up 68-65, and with 28 seconds left Bucknell took the final possession.
Or so everyone thought.
Stephen Brown tried to wait for a play to develop but again Hilliard made a steal and went coast-to-coast on a twto-handed finish. This put the `Cats up by 5 with :09 left, and the rest is history.
Ochefu recorded a double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds) for Villanova, who also got 15 points from Ryan Arcidiacono and 16 points from Dylan Ennis.
Ochefu also deserves credit for his defense at the end of the game. He had 2 blocks in the matter of seconds on D.J. MacLeay which lead to a Hart defensive rebound and a foul. Daniel dedicates the late-game to success to practice.
"We do these high-pressure situations in practice, so it's all about translating that to the game." Sadly, when asked about that two-block sequence, he could not recall ever blocking those two shots.
When asked if this was going to be a blueprint on "how to beat the Wildcats" for the season, Wright jokingly responded "There are obviously a lot of ways to beat us right now."
Hopefully some of those are sealed up by Monday evening. The Wildcats ended the night 25-36 from the free throw line. A couple more made one along the way and maybe this game wouldn't be such a nail biter towards the end...
Villanova will have to be much better if they hope to win against VCU on Monday night in the semifinals of the Legends Classic. The game is at 7:00pm and will be aired on ESPN2.