The Wildcats jumped to a 9-0 lead early against Providence and never let it go, beating the Friars 65-59. They did not make it easy on themselves, with Providence going on a 16-0 run late in the second half to turn a 20-point Villanova lead to 4 with 1:27 remaining.
Phil Booth came to the rescue making a tough layup and drawing the foul. He hit the free-throw and added two more at the end to ice the victory for the Cats.
The first half was defined by the play of Eric Paschall and Booth and Providence not being able to make their shots. In the second half, it was Villanova holding on for dear life as they went completely cold from the field.
Booth finished the game with 23 points on 7-16 shooting with 17 of those points coming in the first half.
Paschall added a double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds, and was strong on both ends of the floor all game. When he elevates over taller competition, his athleticism comes as a surprise to some who do not see him on a regular basis. But throughout the game he seemed to be playing on a different level. He also almost never left the floor, playing 38 minutes in the game.
Cole Swider was perfect from the field and finished the day with 10 points in his first game back in his home state of Rhode Island.
Following the game Jay Wright was joined by Swider in the press conference, and gave him credit for stepping up in a game that likely had increased significance for him.
“Everyone is talking all week, and he really worked hard on concentrating on playing for his teammates and not worrying about where the game was. That’s hard, and he did a great job.”
Despite picking up 3 fouls in the first half and 11 minutes on the floor, Swider made a clear impact on the game. With 9:30 remaining in the second half, Swider drained a three-pointer and on the next possession hit a jumper off of a Saddiq Bey steal to make the score 60-40.
Following that shot, Villanova went nearly 8 minutes without scoring another point and only scored 5 points in the last 8:45.
Villanova’s 9-0 run to begin the game and subsequent first half dominance took the air out of the place early. The atmosphere at the Dunkin Donuts Center completely changed when Providence was able to narrow the deficit to 60-48.
Up until that point it was a forum for a few agitated fans hoping to vocalize some of their opinions to those on the court. When the Friars were able to score those 8 quick points to cut into the lead, it got electric. The excitement seemed amplified by the disbelief that they were back in the game after being down 45-23 at the half. It seemed to have an impact on Villanova going cold from the floor.
Makai Ashton-Langford was the key to the Friars run finishing a career day with 20 points off the bench. In the final 6 minutes he scored 9 points and added an assist. He did this playing only 24 minutes.
Alpha Diallo was the second leading scorer, but struggled shooting throughout the game both from the field and free-throw line. Diallo was not alone, with Providence as a team shooting 24% from three, and 52% from the stripe.
Saddiq Bey seemed to have an impact on Diallo, as he matched up against him frequently in his 28 minutes on the floor. Diallo is listed as a guard, but stands at 6-7. He has been a match-up problem in the past for the Wildcats, most notably scoring 22 points and racking up 10 boards in last year’s Big East Championship. Bey and others were able to step up to slow down his game today.
It was not pretty down the stretch, but the Wildcats were able to find a way to win thanks to a strong first half and good defensive effort throughout. They leaned on Paschall and Booth to get them there, but there were promising signs from the younger players.
Villanova leaves Providence at 2-0 in conference play, and will look ahead to a 14-1 St. John’s team led by Shamorie Ponds on Tuesday at 7:00 E.S.T.