The Villanova Wildcats found enough time for a quick study break to take care of business against the Temple Owls. Josh Hart and Darrun Hilliard II finally broke the 20 point barrier for the Wildcats, scoring 20 on 6-7 shooting each. Quenton Decosey led the way for the Owls, contributing 18 points and a perfect 8-8 mark from the charity stripe.
Temple Coach Fran Dunphy accurately summed up the story of the Wildcats' season to date. "They're a really good team. They play hard, they play together. It doesn't seem like they care who is scoring for them."
The Wildcats got off to a sluggish start against their longtime rival, turning the ball over twice in their first three possessions. But getting back to their bread and butter, Daniel Ochefu, put Villanova on the right track. Dunphy noted how the Wildcats have a "good inside-out process. And when [they] left them open they were knocking down open shots." After hitting a slashing Jayvaughn Pinkston, Ochefu added a baby hook of his own to spark an early run for the home team. Before Temple could blink, Villanova jumped out to a 15-4 advantage fueled by three pointers from Josh Hart and Darrun Hilliard II.
Star point guard Will Cummings did his best to keep the Owls within striking distance throughout the first half. The senior routinely broke down his defender and exposed the Villanova perimeter defense; both Josh Brown and Obi Enechionyia profited from their point guards exploits, knocking down back-to-back triples to bring the game back to a Wildcat lead.
Enechionyia proved to be the story of the first half for Temple. The freshman, and former Villanova recruit, provided an instant spark off the bench for his struggling squad. Enechionyia utilized his elite athleticism and body-control to end the half with an impressive 10 point, 5 rebound impact in just ten minutes of play.
Josh Hart and Darrun Hilliard II paced the Wildcats in the first half of action, scoring 15 and 12 respectively. At the sound of the first buzzer, Villanova found themselves in front with a 39-26 advantage.
Despite their best effort, the Wildcats' steady defense and star wings proved to be too much for the Temple Owls. Like so many games before, Villanova spread the scoring across the board behind a strong total of 14 assists. While registering an "off" afternoon from the field, at least with respect to his now high standards, Dylan Ennis contributed an overall solid outing. His active defense effectively funneled his man into the waiting help defense and was largely responsible for Cummings shooting only 4-13.
Not enough can be said, though, regarding Josh Hart and what was likely the best performance of his still young career. The sophomore was seemingly everywhere at once, attacking the basket, boards, and his mark on defense with ferocity. Simply put, he played angry. And really, really, really well in the process. He finished with 20 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals.
From the wing, Hart consistently beats his defender off the dribble, and spring into an effective double-threat: able to to toss in a floater or dish to an open teammate. Despite overplaying several times on defense, Josh still represents Villanova's first or second best perimeter defender.
Hart attributes his success to a familiar source to 'Nova fans--his teammates. "I've gotta give it to my teammates. They give me all the confidence in the world."
Coach Wright recognized the performance of his ascending sophomore. "Our team did a good job of, when Josh got ti going, to find him. It was good for us to experience that as a team." For those concerned with a lack of a go-to scorer when March rolls around, Wright agrees that "we need to do that, [finding the hot hand], more before league play." It looks as if Villanova will have another option to turn to in Josh Hart.
Despite the obvious bright spots, there are still a number of areas of improvement for the Wildcats. Without Daniel Ochefu on the floor, the Owls were able to take advantage of their undersized opponents. Wright acknowledged that "We got beat up on the boards. We did get better in the second half though." When the Big East Conference schedule arrives, Villanova may find themselves struggling to win the rebounding battle. Sophomore Kris Jenkins was unable to make an impact on the game without his shot falling. Ryan Arcidiacono continued to struggle with his shot, starting the game 0-3 and finishing only 2-7 from the field.
But, as has become common of late, most of these concerns are just nitpicking at this point. Villanova is playing incredibly unselfish and, for the most part, high IQ basketball. This victory against Temple is just the latest chapter in what will undoubtedly continue to be a memorable season.
Villanova now turns its attention to Syracuse, where they will do battle against the Orange at 1:00 PM at the Wells Fargo Center.