Ladies and Gentlemen, we have college basketball... kind of.
The ‘Cats are back in action but fell to the USC Trojans 72-61 in a preseason exhibition game in California. The proceeds from this game went to support relief efforts of the victims of the terrible wildfires that ravaged the state over the past few months.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl led the Cats with 20 points on 10-15 shooting in his Wildcat debut. He added a team high 9 rebounds, along with an assist, a steal, and a block. Saddiq Bey added 16 points, going 4-7 from downtown, along with 7 rebounds and 2 steals. Jermaine Samuels rounded out the double digit scorers with 11 points. The junior leader struggled from deep (1-8), but made up for it with a team high 5 assists. Justin Moore also looked good on both ends of the court, putting up 8 points and 2 rebounds, but no assists as the starting point guard.
The Wildcats were a little shorthanded as they were without their leading scorer, Collin Gillespie after he broke his nose in practice last week (the injury bug has started early it seems). Freshman Bryan Antoine also sat out as he continued to recover from his shoulder surgery that he had last spring.
Jermaine Samuels, Saddiq Bey, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, and Justin Moore made up the starting lineup, but Coach Wright was comfortable moving the guys around and bringing in players off the bench. If anyone thought that they would shy away from the three-pointers this season, think again.
Samuels scored the first four points for the Wildcats as the team centered their offense around getting shots off from behind the arc. They didn’t have much luck, only making 5 of their 22 attempts in the first half but took a 28-27 lead going into the half.
One quick positive that was noticeable was the height and strength of this new team. Although they are young, Bey, JRE, and DCR looked tough inside the post and were just as comfortable posting up as they were kicking outside and driving. Defensively they looked strong as well, as five players forced a steal in the first half. The ‘Cats out-rebounded t he Trojans 20-18 in the first half, and also grabbed 7 offensive boards.
Jay reached into the bench, as Branden Slater, Chris Arcidiacono (haven’t typed that name in a while), and Eric Dixon tallying some minutes but did not make much of any impact.
Samuels got the second half started with converting three free-throws after getting fouled on a three-pointer (although Jay didn’t look happy with the shot selection), and then converting a three-point play after a nice block from JRE. However, USC quickly responded with their own 9-0 run after some sloppy offensive possessions. USC fought their way back into the game on the boards and the ‘Cats faltered, allowing a lot of offensive rebounds and second chance points.
The tempo slowed down considerably after USC chipped their way back into the game, as ‘Nova struggled to get positive consecutive offensive possessions. Jay Wright stayed true to his usual rotation, keeping a seven man rotation with only minimal minutes from the rest of the bench. They had to cut down after Slater picked up his fourth foul with only 14 minutes of action. USC continued pushing the lead, getting it as high as nine points with a little over six minutes remaining.
The young guns tried to keep the ‘Cats in it but the open looks just weren’t falling. USC’s Onyeka Okongwu took control of the Trojans offense and ‘Nova had trouble keeping up with the 6’ 9” freshman. They weren’t able to claw their way back into it and fell to the Trojans 72-61.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl led the ‘Cats with 20 points and 9 rebounds, and Saddiq Bey tallied 16 points and 7 rebounds. Eric Dixon only tallied 4 minutes of action, most of which were in the first half. Samuels finished with 11 points and Justin Moore added 8 points as well. The ‘Cats were severely out-rebounded in the second half and allowed numerous offensive rebounds for the Trojans.
It was clear the ‘Cats were missing their number one ball handler in Gillespie. Other guys tried to pick up the slack but the control and play-calling ability just wasn’t there. They also shot 34 three-pointers and only made 8, a pretty poor performance by Villanova three-point standards. The offense created a lot of space and generally had good looks but just could not convert.
The team is extremely young and they’re still learning to play together. Without their number one ball-handler, it is really tough to judge how they’ll fare this season. There were many moments during the game where they looked like underclassmen who hadn’t played much together yet, but that is sure to change soon.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl looked very promising in his first game with the ‘Cats. He was all over the boards on both sides of the ball and was able to take advantage of one-on-one match-ups in the post. The offense looked the strongest when they went through him in the post and we are sure to see a lot more of that this season. It will be great to see how he matches up against some of the other great big men in the Big East come conference games.
The Villanova Wildcats will open its 100th season at the Finneran Pavilion on November 5 at 8:30 pm against Army.