It seems like every year the Villanova Wildcats find themselves in a November tournament championship game, and this year was no different.
Except they usually win it.
After handedly defeating the Tennessee Volunteers, 71-53, on Saturday, the ‘Cats had a tough matchup against the Purdue Boilermakers in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Championship.
The last time these two teams faced off was in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, also held in Connecticut, where Purdue and Carsen Edwards routed the ‘Cats.
Purdue’s Zach Edey dominated the opening minutes of the game, grabbing three quick buckets and three rebounds in the paint, and the ‘Cats struggled to contain Purdue’s big men.
The ‘Cats were able to adapt well on the offensive side, with most of their early scoring coming from three-pointers and long-range two-pointers. Villanova looked to get Eric Dixon going, but just could not find anything against the much taller combo of Edey and Caleb Furst.
“Edey’s size, his length and his ability to shoot and get a rebound is incredible,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “He gets himself buried in the paint and does a great job of it.”
A three-pointer from Collin Gillespie with just about eight minutes left in the first half tied the game at 21, but Purdue’s Sasha Stefanovic responded with a three of his own to give the lead back to Purdue.
Both teams went a little cold towards the end of the half but back-to-back buckets from Justin Moore and Caleb Daniels put Villanova in front 33-31. A great defensive play from Brandon Slater on Purdue’s last possession of the half led to zero points from the Boilermakers and the ‘Cats took the 2-point lead into the halftime break.
Villanova lost the paint battle in the opening half, with a -8 rebounding margin and -12 points in the paint margin, and those struggles continued in the second half.
Villanova opened the second half with two free-throws from Dixon and a three-pointer from Moore, pushing the lead to 7, but Edey continued utilizing his height to grab rebounds and put in layups to prevent the ‘Cats from extending their lead. Dixon picked up his fourth foul with just over 13 minutes remaining in the game, sending him to the bench and leaving a noticeable size differential down low.
Justin Moore got hot, scoring from pull-up jumpers down low and from behind the arc and gave Villanova the largest lead of the game at 11 with just about 10 minutes left in the game. Both teams started getting hot from behind the arc, trading baskets on almost every possession.
Purdue struggled to contain Villanova’s ball movement and the ‘Cats were able to get a lot of good looks from behind the arc, resulting in a 60-51 lead with just under eight minutes remaining.
Villanova’s offense stalled out dramatically, as Purdue took advantage of missed free throws and several empty possessions from the ‘Cats. The Boilermakers went on an extended 15-2 run to regain the lead. The ‘Cats struggled to find a point for several minutes, with slow ball movement and missed assignments on defense, ultimately leading to Purdue gaining total control of the game.
“It is hard to say after a loss but you look at the guys who were playing, some of our mistakes might have been fatigue or some of them might have been not smart plays,” Wright said.
Moore shutdown any factors attributed to fatigue.
“I don’t think we were tired but they capitalized off our mistakes down the stretch,” Moore said. “It’s the little things that we have to get back to work and correct.”
Purdue finished off the game, as the ‘Cats saw a 9-point lead evaporate down the stretch.
Villanova had five players in double figures, led by Moore’s 19 points and 17 points from Caleb Daniels.
Purdue dominated down low, winning the rebound battle 38-26 and out-scoring the ‘Cats 38-18.
“Their depth is a great advantage for them, and they have experienced depth,” Wright said. “Our depth is going to be inexperienced. There are a couple guys we need to get ready but they just have not been practicing a lot.”
Villanova has a week off before starting Big 5 play against La Salle on Nov. 28.