The Villanova Wildcats stormed into the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, RI to take on Big East rivals Providence. The Wildcats came into the game ranked #9 in the poll and were looking to continue their rise after defeating Butler 76-61. The ‘Cats were able to put together a tough all-around performance and come out on top for their sixth straight win.
The game started off very back-and-forth, with both teams trading baskets and not allowing the other to take control of the game. The ‘Cats were able to push the lead to 10 points after a nice transition dunk from Cole Swider, but those would be his only points of the day. “He had five defensive rebounds, I know people wanted to see him score more, but he was great today in our eyes,” Coach Jay Wright said after the game.
Jermaine Samuels came up limping after one of the final plays of the half, and would not return for the rest of the game. Villanova was able to take a 37-30 lead into halftime, with Saddiq Bey and Justin Moore tallying 10 points each for the ‘Cats. The Friars owned the boards, out-rebounding the ‘Cats 21-14.
The ‘Cats were able to extend their lead to 9 points after a jumper from JRE, but the Friars kept chipping away. Baskets from Reeves and Duke kept Providence within striking distance, and they pounced midway through the second half, pulling off an 11-0 run to give them a one-point lead. ‘Nova was able to recover with a three-pointer from Gillespie and two more baskets from JRE made up a quick 7-1 run that allowed them to regain the lead.
Gillespie and Moore were both playing with 4 fouls for the end of the second half, but Jay Wright and his staff adapted with excellent offensive and defensive substitutions that allowed them both to remain in the game. “We had some crazy lineups out there. This was the first time this season we were caught with Moore and Gillespie with four fouls and we were not as prepared as we should have been,” Coach Wright said. “It definitely wasn’t as pretty as it could have been down the stretch.”
The Friars crowd would not let ‘Nova run away with it, as Providence kept the game within one or two possessions. Some questionable whistles on both sides of the court gave both teams free-throws down the stretch, which Providence used to stay in the game. They had a few open looks from behind the arc that would have been huge momentum swings, but the Friars were unable to convert.
“We had a tough time making uncontested shots today, it’s really disturbing because they’re going down in practice,” Coach Ed Cooley said after the game. Turnovers were another key concern from him. “[the turnovers] were as costly as they’ve been since I started coaching here,” Cooley reflected.
A dunk from David Duke cut the lead to only 3 points with 48 seconds, and Moore missed the front end of a one-and-one to give Providence the ball back. However, some good defense from JRE lead to a steal and Gillespie was able to convert both free-throws off the ensuing foul to push the lead to five. Providence was unable to come up with points on their final possessions and ‘Nova hung on for a close four-point victory.
“That’s the Big East this year man, I hope this is how every game goes this year,” Coach Wright said.
Ed Cooley echoed his thoughts, saying, “Every game in this conference is going down to the wire and we can’t keep giving wins away.”
Gillespie finished with 18 points and 8 rebounds (yes, you read that correct). JRE was right behind him with 17 points, Bey added 13 points, and Moore finished with 10. As a team, they were -12 on the boards, and let up 16 offensive rebounds.
Despite the foul troubles and injury to Samuels, Coach Wright was quick to praise his young players after the tough road victory. “Moore and Robinson-Earl are freshman but they handled the pressure really well. They missed some free-throws but didn’t affect them on the next plays.”
Gillespie echoed his thoughts, adding “It’s fun playing with this group, we’re so young and everything is a learning experience for us.”
The ‘Cats take a short break before returning to action against Saint John’s on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.