Villanova basketball had a long, tough night.
The ‘Cats got off to a slow start, but tied it up at the half. Villanova then pulled ahead in the second, leading by 12 at one point, but the Hokies raised the intensity down the stretch and capitalized on some Villanova mistakes.
Although the Wildcats were able to push the game into overtime, the Hokies eventually won, 81-73.
Villanova head coach Jay Wright believes the ‘Cats were outplayed tonight.
“They were just a better team tonight,” Wright said. “We did a lot of little things wrong but I think it was because of the little things they did right, so credit to them. They just played better than us tonight. We weren’t great; they were really good.”
In the closing seconds of regulation, the game looked like it already belonged to the Hokies but a foul against Justin Mutts allowed the ‘Cats to tie it up and go into overtime. This opportunity only arose after Cartier Diarra accidentally made a free throw towards the end of the game, allowing the ‘Cats time to tie it up.
“I take full responsibility for the end of regulation,” Young said. ”I didn’t expect him to bank it in. He did, and I failed to coach my player on one of the oldest tricks in the book, and it almost cost us. So nobody’s fault but mine.”
This did not prove to be too detrimental to the Hokies, who pulled ahead in overtime and hardly looked back.
The Hokies came out explosive at the start of the game. They showed up with a strong transition offense, complemented by some one-on-one dribble drives that the ‘Cats were slow to catch up to. Villanova struggled to find its groove early and allowed Virginia Tech to extend its lead to eight points midway through the first half.
The Hokies saw a big day from Keve Aluma, who led the Hokies with 23 points. Other notable performances are attributed to Nahiem Alleyne with 20 points, and Justin Mutts with 12.
“[Aluma] is a great person, and he’s worked his tail off and he’s got a big old body and great hands and just had a really good game for us as did several others today,” Young said.
Wright also credits Aluma with a standout performance.
“We were very impressed with the way he shot the ball, and they were good at getting him the ball inside,” Wright said. “Really good player. [He’s] smart, tough, defended well.”
Although the Hokies led for much of the first half, Villanova answered. After two consecutive three-point shots by Collin Gillespie, a basket from Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, and a couple of free throws from Gillespie tied things up at the half, 29-29.
While most of the team was quiet in the first half, Gillespie shined on the court. With 18 of his 25 points coming in the first half. He also had four assists.
This was promising, and the ‘Cats took the momentum and found themselves with a comfortable lead in the second. Then, Virginia Tech stormed back, taking advantage of missed free throws and Wildcat mistakes.
“I think after that we missed some assignments and we left it open a couple times for threes,” Wright said. “We just got sloppy defensively, and then same thing offensively I thought we took a couple of bad shots, didn’t make the extra pass. Those little things you learn, when you have a lead against a good team, you’ve got to play every possession until the end. We’re definitely going to learn that the hard way.”
Despite the loss, Villanova saw strong play from select players. Aside from Gillespie, Caleb Daniels scored 17 points in his second start for the ‘Cats, and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl scored 14 with nine rebounds.
Gillespie carried the team through their slow start in the first half, keeping the ‘Cats in the game, but it was not enough to top the Hokies.
“[Virginia Tech] did a really good job of executing all game,” Gillespie said. “They ran their sets really well and they guarded. “We’ve just got to learn how to play Villanova basketball for 40 minutes and finish games.”
And learn they will. Villanova added this game after Virginia Tech’s original opponent, Temple, dropped out of the tournament due to a COVID outbreak. This game was only confirmed at 1:45 on Friday morning. However, Villanova wanted the opportunity to play.
Wright believes this was a good learning experience, and that Virginia Tech has the type of team they’ll see in the NCAA tournament,
“We knew it was going to be tough to prepare, but that’s what we want to do at this time in the season,” Wright said. “We want to play good teams, we want to learn. We never want to lose, but we’re not afraid to.”