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Strong second half performance propels Villanova to 89-69 victory over Providence

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The first meeting between the Friars and the Wildcats this season was a tale of two halves.

NCAA Basketball: Providence at Villanova Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Despite leading standing atop college basketball rankings in six of the last seven weeks, the Villanova Wildcats crumbled in the face of the Providence Friars’ first-half onslaught. Ed Cooley’s men-in-black presented a serious threat to Jay Wright’s ‘Cats. However, the Wildcats returned with a vengeance in the second half to finish the game in a one-sided 89-69 manner, improving to 19-1 overall.

The Friars bullied the Wildcats at the start, pouncing all over them behind the play of Rodney Bullock and Jalen Lindsey. They led the attack on the ‘Cats, helping their team cut through the ‘Nova defense as they built a 17-8 lead to begin the game. Meanwhile, the Wildcats struggled from deep, as they couldn’t get their shots to fall.

“It wasn’t a pretty game,” Jay Wright said. “It’s a Big East battle where we got hurt on the offensive glass but I’m proud of Mikal and Eric for their defensive efforts. We’re struggling with rebounding and Providence defend three-pointers better than anyone in the Conference. There’s no excuse for the first half but you learn from these tight games more than others.”

As the black-uniformed Friars charged further into the lead in the first half, an air of gloom and uncertainty settled in the Wells Fargo Center. Villanova’s sloppy defense, poor passing and missed shots quickly showed on the scoreboard and the faces of the players, as Jalen Brunson airballed the ball out of play with just nine minutes gone and Providence in the lead. It looked like Villanova might just need a miracle to pull itself out of a potential catastrophe.

“I like the way we played for twenty-two minutes,” Providence Coach Ed Cooley said. “I’m disappointed with the game execution but Villanova took advantage of every mistake we had. Of maybe thirty-five mistakes, they exploited all of them and scored off twenty.”

Villanova struggled to salvage a dying first half until that miracle appeared in the shape of Eric Paschall. Growing into his defensive skills from his redshirt year, Paschall took to the floor tonight and stood out on both ends of the court, particularly on defense. Paschall led six other Wildcats, with a game-high 17 points. He also had five assists, three blocks, and four steals.

Villanova pulled itself together, taking a 39-30 lead into the break, but Providence was still hot in pursuit.

Following from a nail-biting and stomach-lurching first half, the Wildcats returned to the court hungry and eager for vengeance. But the Friars kept nipping at their heels for the first ten minutes of the second half, hounding the Wildcats score for score. With no room to flex their muscles despite being at home and going on their recent streak, the Cats decided they needed to take the tempo and intensity of the game up a few gears in the second half.

Jalen Brunson and Omari Spellman worked their magic in the second half. Spellman scored 16 points and grabbed six rebounds, second on the glass to only Mikal Bridges’ nine rebounds.

Despite an inefficient night on the floor, knocking down only 5-of-15 shots, Brunson was right behind Paschall and Spellman with 15 points. Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree each had 11 points.

After the game, Cooley said, “Jalen deserves all of the praise he gets.”

For Providence, Bullock paced the Friars with 16 points. Lindsey added 14.

With the win behind them, the ‘Cats will now look ahead to this weekend’s trip to Milwaukee, where they’ll take on the Golden Eagles on Sunday. Tip-off is slated for 1 p.m.