It was a heart-attack inducing second-half for the Villanova Wildcats, but they took care of business against the 19th-ranked Michigan Wolverines with a five-point victory, 60-55, to take home the Legends Classic title. Villanova led by seven points at the half, and extended their lead significantly at the outset of the second half, but just as the 'Cats started to let their guard down, the Wolverines got hot.
The team that made just 29.6% of their shots in the first half got white-hot to chip away the Villanova lead, exposing the Wildcats, and closing the gap. The Wolverines shot over 51% from the field in the second half. The lead proceeded to change hands seemingly-countless times (six times in the final three minutes) in the final minutes as the teams battled for their lives.
Up just one point with seconds left on the clock and neither team with a timeout remaining, the ball went out of bounds -- staying with the Michigan offense. A referee discussion regarding possession, however, gave both teams a chance at an extra "timeout" while the officials went to the monitor. Rather than calling something from across the court, Michigan's coach John Beilein was given a chance to draw something up for the occasion.
Despite his best efforts, Villanova was ready.
JayVaughn Pinkston flew into the frame, blocking the shot, and the ball fell straight into the hands of Nova guard Ryan Arcidiacono. The Wolverines were forced to foul, putting the guard on the line, where he made it a three-point game. On the ensuing inbounds pass, while Wildcat fans were no-doubt wondering whether coach Jay Wright would tell his team to foul -- Michigan made a mistake -- they threw the ball away out of bounds.
Villanova took over, passing the ball in to Arcidiacono, who was again put on the line, making it a five-point advantage with just enough time for a long buzzer-beater attempt.
The Wildcats had just two players who scored in double digits, Dylan Ennis who had 15 and Daniel Ochefu with 10. Pinkston had a team-high 9 rebounds to go with his crucial late-game block, and Josh Hart had 8 rebounds as well. Ennis and Ochefu each had two blocks of their own, including one extremely impressive display of jumping ability.
Ennis was the "man-of-the-match" for Villanova in this one, making 60% of his shots from the field and three-of-six from downtown. His two blocks were key plays and he stuck to his man on defense all game. Arcidiacono and Pinkston also deserve much credit for their late-game heroics, with the key block and perfect free-throw shooting to cement the victory.
Their shooting was pretty consistent through both halfs, making 30% from beyond the arc at both halftime and at the game's end. Overall shooting improved just slightly after the intermission, going from 44.4% to 45.1% at the final buzzer.
Villanova beat the Wolverines on the boards 34-to-30 and had seven steals to their opponent's four.
A significant help to the cause, however, was the 20 fouls that went against the Wolverines, particularly against their frontcourt players. Starters Caris LeVert and Mark Donnal, as well as key reserves Max Bielfeldt and Ricky Doyle, all finished the game with four personal fouls on their record -- a fact that limited the Wolverines ability to do much underneath as the clock ticked down.
During the Wolverine's second-half surge, the Wildcats were not only porous on defense, but seemed to be lost offensively as well. Rather than continuing the formula that had been working early, of pushing the ball inside to Ochefu and Pinkston early in the possession, on more than a few occasions, the 'Cats guards seemed to settle for difficult three-pointers early in the shot clock.
While Wright preaches to his players to take their shots, it is also important to make sure that you're taking the best shot -- getting the ball to a teammate who is better positioned, or taking the ball inside when the defense allows. The 'Cats were ultimately able to work their way out of the jam, but they certainly seemed tired and uncomfortable during the Michigan run.
With the Legends Classic title taken care of, Villanova will return home. Their next game will be at the Wells Fargo Center on Sunday -- against the University of Delaware. They will return to New York City on December 9th to face another Big Ten team, Illinois, in the Jimmy V Classic.