Wednesday was Senior Night, when the fans of a school come together to celebrate the careers of those who will be moving on due to graduation in May. In their matchup with DePaul, the Wildcats gave seniors Denny Grace, Matt Kennedy, and Tom Leibig a proper sendoff, defeating the Blue Demons by a score of 93-62.
At the beginning of the game, DePaul was hanging tough with Villanova, led by juco transfer Max Strus. Strus had 14 points in the first half, and finished the game with 21 points and 6 rebounds. However, there is only so much carrying of the team that one player can do, and when Strus cooled off a bit after a torrid start, Villanova was able to capitalize. The Wildcats shot 59.3% from the field in the first half, and DePaul was forced into the double bonus just after the midway point of the first half, giving them 14 free throw attempts in the first half alone. In addition to this, DePaul was also somewhat careless with the ball, racking up 10 first half turnovers on their way to 20 in total.
While Villanova does not have any players in their final year of eligibility in their rotation, they are not lacking in experience, as the junior foursome of Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Phil Booth, and Eric Paschall led the way tonight at Wells Fargo. Bridges had 15 first half points on his way to a 27 point outburst, including four three-pointers made. Brunson didn’t light up the stat sheet like he usually does, but he was a key facilitator, racking up 7 assists to only two turnovers on the night. Paschall’s contributions were mainly down in the paint, with 16 points and 5 rebounds in addition to his usual tenacious defense. The main story coming into tonight, however, was the return of Phil Booth, who missed the last seven games with a fractured bone in his hand. Booth put up 14 points and 3 rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench, with seemingly no lingering effects from the injury. In the postgame press conference, Jay Wright said about Booth “It’s amazing that he can have a cast on for five weeks and come back looking the same as he did before in practice yesterday and again today, and the credit goes to him and the training staff for that”.
However, the real magic happened far after the game was decided. With about two minutes left, Jay Wright put in the “Bench Mob”, freshman Jermaine Samuels, redshirt sophomore Tim Delaney, and a trio of senior walk-ons in Denny Grace, Matt Kennedy, and Tom Leibig. Kennedy had scored his first career points against Creighton, but the other two had not scored yet in their collegiate careers. However, with about a minute left, Denny Grace sank a three pointer from the wing to push Villanova’s total to ninety, and the crowd was electrified. This wasn’t the end of the Bench Mob’s heroics, as with 20 seconds left Tom Leibig hit a fadeaway jumper from the baseline, giving the two a Senior Night to remember.
The Wildcats move to 25-3 on the year, and 12-3 in Big East play. The DePaul Blue Demons fall to 10-17 on the year and 3-12 in conference play. Villanova’s next game is this Saturday at Creighton. The game will be broadcast on FOX at 2:30 PM.