The Villanova Wildcats were as flat as they've ever been coming out in the first half. They struggled handling the hot-shooting Georgetown Hoyas, and suffered through a shooting slump of their own on the other end. It didn't let up. The Hoyas kept their foot on the gas and Nova went into the locker room trailing by 22 points, 42-20.
"They had really good individual one-on-one defenders," Villanova head coach Jay Wright said of the Hoyas. "I thought we didn't pass the ball to each other; it wasn't selfishness, it was kind of thinking we got by them when we didn't.
"They're very athletic and long, so you have to be smarter than just trying to beat guys one-on-one."
The Wildcats battled back for a while in the second half, pulling within 12 points on more than one occasion, but the mere presence of Josh Smith on the court was usually too much for the Villanova defense. They lost, 78-58.
"Every time we got it to 12, 13, I thought we were going to win the game," Wright said. "Sometimes it's just the other team's night, you know? We had that out-of-bounds play, we get it to 12 with the ball, we get the out-of-bounds play and they overturn the call. Now, that's not gonna change the game, but it's just a crazy play right in front of you.
"I kept thinking every time we'd get back that we were gonna do it."
The Wildcats couldn't match up with his size and made most of their second half runs when the offensive-lineman-sized center was sitting on the bench with foul trouble. Though forced to sit him, the Hoyas were still able to keep Smith active for significant minutes, which ultimately stifled the Wildcats' attempt to climb back into the game.
Asked what was going right for the Hoyas, coach John Thompson III said simply, "a lot."
Georgetown's student section, elated at the victory over the number-four-ranked Wildcats rushed the court as other Georgetown fans urged them to turn back around. It was the Wildcats' second straight loss on Martin Luther King Day.
"The students, they watch a lot of TV," Thompson said of the storming, "I guess I wish they hadn't done that, but they watch a lot of TV."
"From start to finish they were outstanding, they just played a lot better than us tonight," Wright said. "I don't know exactly the reason that we weren't as sharp as we normally do.
"We've got to go back to work and keep getting better; thank God we have time, it's still early in the season."
The 'Cats were led by Ryan Arcidiacono, who scored 16 points, making four of six attempts from 3-point range. Overall, the team was just 30.4% from beyond the arc, however, and 34.1% from the floor. Shooting was better in the second half, but Villanova was never really able to shoot well enough to overcome their horrible shooting first half.
They were also beaten thoroughly on the glass, grabbing just 26 rebounds to Georgetown's 34. Center Josh Smith grabbed 8 rebounds and Isaac Copeland had 6, despite playing just 24 and 25 minutes, respectively. Smith was a factor, pushing Daniel Ochefu, JayVaughn Pinkston and Daryl Reynolds out of position and fighting for caroms, but the Hoyas were scrappy battling for the ball after misses and denying the Wildcats second chances often in the first half.
"On their end, just an outstanding defensive effort, just pounded us on the boards," Wright stated. "I know it's only eight offensive rebounds, but they counted. A lot of those offensive rebounds were crucial situations where we had a chance to get back in the game.
"Their defense created a lot of turnovers, and those turnovers led to a lot of breakout baskets. They're very good in transition."
Some fans may see parallels to last season's twin decimations at the hands of Creighton, but tonight's loss was different in one vital way: Villanova played better in the second half. Against Creighton, the Wildcats lost by 20-plus points on two occasions, and at the end of both, the Blue Jays outscored the 'Cats in all four halves of basketball that they competed in. Tonight, though the 'Cats lost by 20 points, they outscored the Hoyas 38-36 in the second half, and played better both offensively and defensively -- if only by a little bit.
The Hoyas shot 60% from the floor in the first half and 71.4% from deep, never seeming to struggle much with Villanova's defense. While many of their points came off of transition plays, they were able to ride their hot shooting to build what turned out to be an insurmountable lead. Despite seeing their shooting return to earth in the second half (making just 40% from the floor and 20% from deep), they were still able to hold on for the blowout win.
In previous games this season, the Hoyas struggled against a zone defense, but Villanova stuck with their man-to-man system.
"[Going zone] was definitely part of our thought-process going in, but when we got down, I didn't think ... we got down so quick, I didn't want to take away our aggressiveness," Wright explained.
The 'Cats were too sloppy against a team that wasn't going to make many mistakes of its own. They had 17 turnovers, but just eight assists in the game, including having 10 balls stolen by the Hoyas.
"We've had some games like this where we kind of got out of what we did and we found ways to win it," Wright recalled. "I think we got into that mode offensively a little bit, and we played a team that we couldn't overcome.
"We've done this before, we got down, got a little sloppy offensively, and have been able to overcome it. This team is too good, this atmosphere was too good to overcome that. It was sloppy, you know, the turnovers, even defensively missing some assignments, you're not going to overcome that against these guys."
This season's Big East has so much more parity than last season, when it seemed that almost every program was having a down season. For Villanova, that means that there may not be many opportunities to finagle their way out of a bad performance -- every team has the talent to play their best game on any given night.
Asked about the strength of the league this season, Wright remarked, "I don't like it tonight, but tomorrow, I like it a lot."