Seton Hall was out for revenge in Saturday afternoon’s game after losing to No. 3 Villanova by two points a week ago and blowing a 16-point second half lead to No. 17 Creighton on Wednesday.
However, Villanova denied Seton Hall a marquee win and that chance at revenge. The Pirates and the ‘Cats tend to play close games but 'Nova grabbed an early lead in this one and was never truly threatened by Seton Hall and won, 80-72.
Villanova jumped out early in the first half 26-12, after a 16-3 run led by Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Justin Moore.
Unlike the first two games back from the COVID break, Robinson-Earl had his shooting stroke throughout this game. At times, he simply dominated the Pirates with his smooth inside and outside game scoring a team-high 23 points, while shooting 8-for-12 from the floor.
“Keeping high confidence,” said Robinson-Earl, about the key to overcoming his shooting struggles. “Just continuing to shoot the ball, and having great attitude throughout those two games and going into this one.”
Justin Moore continues to grow as a threat from both distance and in driving to the hoop, scoring 16 points on 6-for-13 shooting and had one of his best showings from beyond the arc, going 4-for-5 from three-point range.
“[Moore] had a really bad sprained thumb for a while, and it really affected his shooting,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “It wasn’t something we wanted to talk about, and we didn’t want anyone to know it. ... I think we saw him healthy, and it was big for us, especially in the first half.”
Villanova took a 37-27 lead into the break.
The second half started out shaky. Immediately after halftime, Robinson-Earl got in early foul trouble, but Jermaine Samuels put Villanova on his back, scoring 15 of his 17 points in the second half alone.
“I definitely do, but it has nothing to do with scoring and everything to do with continuing to play Villanova Basketball for my teammates and coaches,” Samuels said, when asked if he feels he’s taking on more of a leadership role as a senior. “That’s the number one priority, the rest will come. At the end of the day, it’s about playing Villanova Basketball.”
After Collin Gillespie torched the Pirates in the earlier meeting, Seton Hall was determined to pressure the ball out of his hands and deny him any open looks at the basket. Gillespie did not force things, but instead distributed to his teammates. He finished with a career high 11 assists to go along with his 11 points.
“If you’re not a smart, mature player like Collin, you start forcing things,” Wright said. “But instead he just got shots for everybody else and controlled the tempo of the game.”
After the Wildcats jumped out to an early lead, they were never truly threatened as the Pirates seemed out of sync most of the contest.
Surprisingly, after Robinson-Earl went out of the game with more than 16 minutes remaining due to foul trouble, Seton Hall’s dangerous big man Sandro Mamukelashvili hardly touched the ball, scoring only 2 of his 12 points in the second half.
In his career, “Mamu” averaged more than 20 points per game against the ‘Cats, but today was held well below his average. Part of this is attributable to Villanova’s team defense and their ability to defend and rebound against bigger players or teams with a size advantage.
“Just trying to be as physical as possible and relying on your teammates behind you,” Samuels said of the key to matching up against bigger players. “It isn’t just a one man job. We play together as a team and our teammates always have our back so they are tall and they are physical but we have help behind us.”
With Mamukelashvili in check, the Pirates’ Shavar Reynolds posted a team-high 13 points. Myles Cale and Jared Rhoden had 12 points apiece.
It was a quieter game for the Villanova bench, who only had six points, but Wright isn’t concerned. He believes there’s still plenty of potential with his reserves.
“This year was the year where they were starting to play and understand what they’re doing,” Wright said. “But when you get shut down it affects the guys off the bench more than the starters.”
With the win, Villanova improves to 11-1 overall and 6-0 in Big East play. The ‘Cats return to action on Wednesday, as they had on the road to play St. John’s. Tip-off is scheduled for 9 p.m. ET.