Josh Hart was in the house rocking a Jalen Brunson Mavericks jersey, so you knew the Friars never really had a chance.
Coming off a tough loss on the road against Marquette, Villanova was looking to get back on the winning path at home against the Providence Friars. The Friars have been struggling in Big East play, winning only 4 of their first 11 games.
The Villanova Wildcats went on to win, 85-67, over the Friars, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
The ‘Cats started off slow, missing their first six shots before a three-pointer from Eric Paschall stopped the cold streak. Luckily, Providence wasn’t doing much better converting on offense and went almost four minutes without scoring a basket.
Phil Booth led the ‘Cats on a quick 10-4 run over a few minutes, extending the lead to 20-14. A technical foul on David Duke seemed to spark something in the Friars and they chipped back into the game, bringing the game back within one possession. The game picked up some life and the teams traded baskets, with the Wildcats enjoying a narrow lead. Booth took control of the offense, nailing a three-pointer and spreading out the offense to get them clicking.
Providence’s leading scorer Alpha Diallo threw down a nasty dunk over Samuels and Cremo, got the foul, and converted on the free-throw, bringing the game back within three with a few minutes left in the first half.
“We knew we had to get better [after the Marquette loss], there were a lot of little things that Coach was pushing us to get better,” Eric Paschall said.
Jahvon Quinerly checked back into the game after a brief minute stint earlier in the half and lead Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree to an emphatic and-one dunk. Gillespie had bene struggling from the field in the half but put together a nice drive and layup to extend their lead before the half. The ‘Cats put together a well-executed in-bounds play with 2 seconds left but Gillespie’s three-pointer hit front rim and they took a 39-34 lead into halftime.
Booth was leading the ‘Cats with 11 points, Gillespie added 7 points, and Cremo, Cosby-Roundtree, and Paschall all had 5 points. They were able to contain Diallo to only 6 points, largely shutting him down in the paint but still allowed him to grab 5 rebounds. Nate Watson lead the Friars with 8 points and in just 11 minutes.
Paschall opened up the scoring in the second half with a nifty move down low to give them a quick start, which they desperately needed given their slow starts the past few games. The Friars would not go away easily, with buckets coming from Watson and a three-pointer from Reeves. A slam from Reeves over Phil Booth tied the game at 45, but not to be out done Booth took it the other way and nailed a fade-away and got the foul as well. Paschall started heating up as well after a relatively quiet first half, getting 10 points in the first 5 minutes of action.
Providence was able to cut back into the game with a little help from the refs, whistling Villanova for five fouls in the span of a minute and they didn’t stop there. Lots of contact on a Phil Booth missed layup went uncalled and another foul was called on Samuels on the other end, causing the Finn to erupt in protest. Only a couple minutes of game action had passed but suddenly the Friars had cut the lead to just two with 12 minutes left.
“For our guys to keep their composure after getting a lot of fouls called against you, I’m really proud of them. We didn’t let that be the turning point of the game,” Coach Wright said after the game.
“We really didn’t think we were doing that bad,” Phil laughed before Coach interjected - “I did.”
Jackson’s second basket of the game tied up the game at 53 and the Friars took the ball the other way after a bad Cremo turnover and grabbed the lead. Back-to-back dunks from Cosby-Roundtree and Paschall sparked some energy back into the ‘Cats and Paschall added a three-pointer that forced a time-out from Ed Cooley.
Phil Booth clicked it into overdrive, converting a jelly-esque three-point play and then drew a foul on a three-pointer that caused Duke to foul out. A great hustle play from Paschall lead to a three-pointer from Saddiq Bey which almost brought the house down. A missed shot from the Friars on the other end brought the ‘Cats flying down in transition, and Cosby-Roundtree tipped a rebound back in and took a foul as well, pushing the lead to double digits.
“We did not show maturity or discipline down the stretch and they go hand in glove,” Providence’s Ed Cooley said after the game. “We did not guard well or execute well at all towards the end.”
The ‘Cats poured it on in before the final buzzer, finishing the game on an extended 30-10 run over the final ten minutes of the game. The final horn sounded and Villanova ended up with an 85-67 victory.
The seniors led the way for ‘Nova as Paschall finished with 25 points and Booth added 22.
“We had great leadership from our two leaders,” Coach Wright said.
Ed Cooley echoed Wright, calling Paschall and Booth two of the best players in the league. “Booth’s head-fakes forcing a fifth foul on one of our guys - that’s a veteran move.”
Cosby-Roundtree was the only other player for Villanova in double figures with 12, shooting a perfect 4-4 from the field. Gillespie had an off day shooting, going 1-9 from the field and 0-6 behind the arc.
“I was really happy with Dhamir’s performance today,” Wright said. “We’ve been hard on him this season because we expect so much out of him since he was one of the few guys who were actually here last season,.”
Nate Watson had a team high 18 points for the Friars, and Diallo finished with 11 points. “I was proud of our guys for the first 35 minutes of the game but our lack of experience really showed at the end,” Coach Cooley commented. “You have to be perfect on the road in this league and we were not. On to Xavier.”
For the Wildcats, it is on to Saint John’s as they face off at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, at 5 p.m.