The Villanova Wildcats shook off some early cobwebs to get past the Providence Friars and advance to the semi-finals of the Big East Tournament.
The story of the game is the appearance of an aggressive Villanova defense that has not been seen much this year. The Wildcats’ defense, for the most part, was sharp, turning the Friars over 19 times. Jermaine Samuels had a strong defensive performance, tallying 4 steals, while finishing the day with 0 personal fouls.
The Wildcats rode this defensive efforts, and the transition points yielded as a result, to a 31-24 halftime lead.
However, Providence came out firing after the break, tying the game with just over 9 minutes remaining in the half as Villanova’s defense remained in the locker room. The tension was short lived though as, riding the hot shooting of Collin Gillespie, the ‘Cats reclaimed the lead and stretched it to 11 with just under 5 minutes left.
The Wildcats and Friars traded punches for the remainder of the game with Villanova enjoying a double-digit cushion for the final minute.
Eric Paschall led the Wildcats with 20 points and 10 rebounds, while Collin Gillespie chipped in 19 points on blistering 5-10 from deep. Phil Booth poured in 13 points but turned the ball over 6 times.
The Wildcats advance to Friday night’s semi-final game and will face the winner of #4 Xavier vs. #5 Creighton.
Post-Game Press Conference:
JAY WRIGHT: Good effort against a Providence team that’s really starting to come together. The guys played a great game last night. If you look at their team the last five or six games, even their losses, close losses, tough games, and they’re really playing good basketball. So I think we beat a good team, a good physical, defensive team. It wasn’t pretty, but you’ve got to be willing to play ugly and win some of those games. So I’m proud of those guys that they did that.
Q. Eric, you and Phil have taken a big leadership role in this team and obviously had a lot of young guys and new guys this season. Can you talk about how this team has come together over the season and what you and Phil have done to lead these younger guys.
ERIC PASCHALL: Coach tells us we have to lead by example, talk to our younger guys, and just do all the little things -- playing defense, rebounding, not worrying about if our shot’s going in. I just feel like our whole team has been doing that. Our whole team’s had a great attitude, and we’re taking a step in the right direction.
Q. Have you seen great changes from November to December until now?
ERIC PASCHALL: Yeah, definitely defensively, just getting better talking and all those little things that we need to be to be a good defensive team.
Q. Jay, what did you say during that time-out when they tied it at 44?
JAY WRIGHT: I don’t remember, but it wasn’t anything awesomely inspiring, I can tell you that. You know, we got some good shots. I thought we were still playing pretty well. I just wanted to just kind of slow down the momentum. They’re a really emotional team. I mean that in a good way, like when they get going, they get out on the break, and this place gets going crazy. They’ve had a lot of success here because of that.
It was more stopping that. I wasn’t concerned with what we were doing.
Q. Eric, it seemed like there was a more conscious effort from you to attack the basket today. You’ve been struggling from three of late. Is that something you’ve talked about, or is that just more how the game flowed today?
ERIC PASCHALL: Definitely feel it’s just being aggressive. Coach gave me the confidence to be aggressive, shoot threes, and also just take what the defense gives me.
Q. Jay, you told us a couple days ago that the first game of this tournament can be the toughest for the younger guys. Did you see a little bit of those jitters the first few minutes, and did you like how they settled down as the game went on?
JAY WRIGHT: I did. Saddiq Bey goes scoreless tonight. It’s his first game in the Garden in the Big East Tournament. It’s impactful, man. It’s impactful to me now. I’ve been here, we don’t need to talk about how long. Still when you walk on that floor, it’s different. It’s exciting.
I’ve also seen over the years in this tournament the team that plays the night before, they’re not affected the next day. It’s if they win, it’s the following day. They’re actually at an advantage because they played a game, they’re in a rhythm, and we’ve been sitting around for four or five days. So that’s what I was really concerned about, and I thought we did a good job coming out ready to play.
Q. Jay, it seems like whenever you and Providence meet in the Big East Tournament, it’s always a slugfest. What is it about the Friars that make it so tough?
JAY WRIGHT: I just think they’re really well coached, and Ed’s been there a long time. I’ve been there. We really know what each other are doing, and we’ve had so many tough games with each other. I think the players are very comfortable in terms of style of play. The styles match up similarly. They’re very tough defensively, very physical. They are similar styles of play. I’m probably complimenting us more than them when I say that, because they play really physical. We want to be that physical and that tough. That’s what all these games have come down to.
Look at last year, we went to the NCAA Tournament -- you can say it afterwards pretty handily -- but this game here, we could have easily lost against Providence in overtime.
Q. I’m sure you told these guys this whole trip that you’re starting on every game’s going to be hard, and you probably say that every year, and maybe you mean it more this year, I’m not sure. But is there a value to this game being as difficult as it was coming out of the chute so they really know that now?
JAY WRIGHT: I think you and I have been doing this long enough that you’ve asked me that question before.
Q. I can’t remember.
JAY WRIGHT: It usually is valuable to the other teams, but this team hasn’t really wanted for tough games. We’ve had plenty of them. In the other years past, we’ve been dominant in some games. This team, every game’s been a tough game.
So we would have taken an easy one, but it certainly wasn’t. I’m happy that it was a tough, physical game, and the guys played through it. They played through the physicality. I thought it was really good.
Again, Saddiq Bey fouls out in 15 minutes. It’s a physical game. He’s got to learn how to play physical without fouling. That’s what freshmen have to learn.
Q. Jay, you talked about wanting to get Cole in the game and get him in. You got him in pretty early in the first half there, about eight minutes ago. How do you think he played today? How valuable were his minutes?
JAY WRIGHT: Really valuable, man. His length defensively was great. He did a good job on the offensive glass. Offensively, he’s always a threat to score. He got himself to the foul line. We couldn’t have asked for anything more. He was awesome. You know, for being out -- he was out six weeks without being able to play and being able to practice, probably hasn’t played in a game really in seven, eight weeks. It was really impressive. Really happy for him, happy for us.
Q. It seemed like Eric’s defense in the first half kind of jump-started you guys.
JAY WRIGHT: Yeah. There’s a responsibility on Eric and Phil that’s off the charts. They’re our loading scorers, but also we put them on the best players. They have to defend them. He’s our leading rebounder. There’s just so much on their shoulders. We don’t feel sorry for them, they don’t either, but it’s pretty impressive. And when he starts the game like that, it really does inspire our team.
Q. The question is about Eric and kind of just overall this season, obviously, he’s been in a different role. You’ve talked about how much you’ve put on his shoulders. What areas has he specifically improved in this year, and what’s kind of the next areas that you guys are working on?
JAY WRIGHT: He has really improved in each area of the game, but mostly in being a playmaker, where he was always a great scorer and always a great defensive player, great rebounder. We now put the ball in his hands to be a playmaker, where he can score, he can get to the foul line, and he can get other people shots. Today only credited for two assists, but he hit Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, which should have been on maybe three more assists for dunks. And last game I think he had five assists.
So the ability to do everything. He can guard every position. You know, I think his game actually fits the NBA game better than college. I think he’s probably going to be a better NBA player than college, and he’s a hell of a college player.
Q. Coming into this year, you had the two seniors, Phil and then Eric, but how big has Colin Gillespie’s kind of emergence this year for you as a third scorer been?
JAY WRIGHT: It’s been awesome. He’s the guy that really had the significant playing time last year, even though it wasn’t a lot, but we count on him in some clutch situations. Again, he’s another guy who’s a sophomore and kind of treating him like a senior. He’s got to be a leader, and he’s got a lot on his shoulders too. He’s been awesome all year. On and off the court, he’s a leader in this program.
Q. For Eric, what was it that you saw in the Providence defense that encouraged you to take the ball to the hole as much as you did today?
ERIC PASCHALL: Honestly, just my teammates finding me in the right spots. It wasn’t anything that they were doing specifically. It was just my teammates found me, and I tried to be aggressive and make the right plays, passing to my teammates and try to just do everything.