Ah, the Holy War. Villanova and St. Joe’s took part in a longstanding Big 5 tradition this afternoon, with the Wildcats coming in as overwhelming favorites. Villanova was looking to extend their 24 game win streak in the Big 5, while the Hawks were looking to grab their first win against Villanova since 2011, and first on Nova’s home turf since 2004.
The Cats fielded their regular starting 5 of Gillespie, Booth, Bey, Paschall, and DCR, while St Joe’s made an adjustment at the 4 from last game against Princeton by pulling Charlie Brown for Chris Clover (Lucy must’ve hurt him when she pulled a football out from under him). The goal for Jay Wright’s squad this game, work on limiting turnovers and knocking down shots. The goal for the Hawks, be the one to snap the streak.
The opening tip went to the Hawks and the game got off to a hard start with a scramble for the ball and a quick foul by Bey. First bucket took a while as both teams weren’t giving an inch, however St. Joe’s struck first after nearly 2 minutes of play. Early on, the Cats relied on their shooting while the Hawks seemed to keep getting mismatches down low. 7 of Nova’s first 8 shots were from three as they tried to run mainly through Gillespie and Cremo. St. Joe’s was very disciplined early on, going the first 9 minutes of play without a single foul. I’m also not sure if there was a memo that both teams got, but of the first 34 shots, 20 of them were from 3. Both teams jacked up more threes than twos through the first 10 minutes by a lot, which is something the Cats are used to being unique in.
Villanova started cooking with about 8 minutes to go, draining back to back threes and forcing some turnovers. Jahvon Quinerly made an appearance just before the media timeout coming off his latest injury. Wright let him run point for a while, but it seemed to stop the flow of the offense, so booth was needed to restore order. This seemed to work as Villanova closed the half strong up 10.
The second half saw both teams trying to score more inside. The shot chart looked more like a basketball game than a three point contest. Cole Swider showed that he’d been in the weight room with some strong moves inside (John Shackleton will be happy to those results on the court). The half started well with the Cats extending their lead to 17, but with a few quick buckets by St. Joe’s from defensive breakdowns cause Jay Wright to call timeout with the lead cut to 12. After that there was no looking back. Villanova exploded offensively to a 19 point lead backed by some sharpshooting from the wings and Swider continuing to make plays inside.
With 11 minutes to go in the half, the game felt decided. It was only a matter of Villanova taking the Hawks’ hearts and souls. They continued to play their trademark 3⁄4 court press and aggressively crash the boards. Side note: The crowd helped too. After an air-ball from star guard Lamarr Kimble, the incessant “AIR-BALL” chants rendered him basket-less for over 14 minutes. St. Joe’s was able to close the gap, but only after the Wildcats put in their bench. They cut the lead all the way down to 11 with 5 to go, but the game never felt out of control.
That was until the four minute mark. When the lead was cut to 7, there was a sense of panic from the crowd, which didn’t go away when a shot clock violation to turn the ball over. Booth calmed a few nerves with a three, only to have the nerves set back in after a tip in on the other end. As the last few minutes progressed, both teams seemed to be in a deadlock as Villanova’s lead hovered around 9, which means the Cats just had to ride this one out for another victory.
Bottom line, this was a shaky win for the Wildcats. They were able to reduce their turnovers and start knocking down shots from beyond the arc. Defensively, they seemed to lose concentration towards the end, but that’s nothing a few lectures from Jay can fix. All-in-all, the Nova Nation should rejoice with another Big 5 and some strong shooting from the blue and white. Final score: 70-58.