The year 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic might have ruined many plans and brought numerous surprises in the sports world, but even in this era of uncertainty one thing remains: the Hawk is still dead.
The Wildcats won the latest entry in the ‘Holy War’ — their rivalry against Big 5 foe Saint Joseph’s Hawks, 88-68.
“Thought we had a really good stretch in the second half, where we defended well,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “That’s what created the separation.”
The Hawks proved to be more formidable than their winless record initially suggested. Despite trailing for most of the time, they kept the game close, until Villanova went on a big 17-2 run over a five-and-a-half-minute stretch midway through the second half to put the game out of reach.
Saturday marked the Wildcats’ ninth straight win over their Big 5 rivals.
“They play a unique style and they’re gonna keep shooting those threes,” Wright said. “It was just that one run of stopping consecutive threes that was really important.
Before the Wildcats’ big second half run, the Hawks refused to go away.
Villanova held a 41-33 lead at halftime, but whenever it seemed like the ‘Cats would gain separation or push the lead into double figures, the Hawks responded with tough defense and a couple of shots to bring the game within reach.
Unfortunately for St. Joe’s, it couldn’t match the Wildcats’ firepower late in the game.
“They’re gonna be good,” Wright said of the Hawks. “They’re missing a couple of really good players, so they’ll get healthy and get a lot better. They’re gonna be a good team. That’s going to be a good win.”
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl led a balanced Villanova attack. The sophomore standout racked up 25 points, seven rebounds, six assists assists, one steal and a block.
Despite a broken nose, which he received in the game against Butler, Robinson-Earl was familiar with the feeling.
“I broke my nose before in like eighth grade, so the mask I was wearing today was from eighth grade,” he said. “So, it’s one I’ve already worn before. It’s different for sure, but I think when you’re so concentrated at the task at hand, it doesn’t bother you as much as it might look.
His mother, who now lives in the area, was able to drop off the mask in time for the win.
Aside from Robinson-Earl, three other Wildcats finished in double figures. Caleb Daniels chipped in 19 points and five rebounds in the win. Justin Moore finished with 18 points, six rebounds, and seven assists assists. Jermaine Samuels had 12 points and eight rebounds.
After the game, Wright noted that Brandon Slater got hurt in the first half with back spasms.
“We’re thinking it was spasms,” Wright said of Slater. “He was going to try in the second half, but then we didn’t need him, so we didn’t want to push it.”
Taylor Funk and Jordan Hall paced the Hawks with 17 points apiece. Ryan Daly added 11 points.
With the win, Villanova improves to 7-1 overall. It will now redirect its attention back towards Big East play, as the Wildcats prepare for a trip to Milwaukee to play the Marquette Golden Eagles on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. ET.