Big 5 basketball is back for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Villanova Wildcats picked up from where they left off: with a win. They dominated in wire-to-wire fashion on Sunday night by smothering and pushing around La Salle in a 72-46 victory.
Big 5 basketball is known for it’s east coast, tough-nosed play and tonight and while the result might not have suggested it, it was the battle coach Jay Wright had known forever.
“It’s a Big Five game and in these, it’s always survive and advance,” Wright said. “We played a good first half. We did a really good job defensively. They adjusted in the second half and made it tougher on us. We didn’t do as good a job in the second half. We’ll take it. We’re happy to get a Big 5 win against a good La Salle team.”
‘Nova had its best defensive showing of the season, holding La Salle to under 50. It also outrebounded La Salle 50-30, while holding the Explorers to under 30% shooting and only allowing 1 assist. The ‘Cats also stepped it up inside, only allowing 10 points in the paint. At one point, the ‘Cats went on a 21-0 run to take full command of the game.
“I loved our defense in the first half, I really did,” Wright said. “I thought some of the things that they did in the second half, we handled well. We were prepared and had great leadership by Collin, Justin, and Jermaine. We did a really good job defensively in the first half and it got us easy baskets in the second half.”
Just like in Villanova’s five previous games this season, the ‘Cats defense had a lot of success switching different kinds of screens. This time around, they were able to sustain the effort throughout. This has been the biggest strength of the defense thus far this season and should only get stronger as chemistry strengthens and depth develops.
The biggest happening in the ‘Cats victory though was the return Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree. Over the weekend, it was announced that he would dress and maximized this by playing him five minutes — his first bit of action since March 7, 2020.
“We’ve been battling the flu,” Wright said. “We needed bodies in practice, so we put DaDa in there and he looked really good. I know he isn’t supposed to be able to do this. I knew he wanted to play and we said, ‘let’s give it a shot.’ For not having played in a year and a half, I thought he looked really good.”
He contributed two points, two offensive rebounds and one assist. He scored the first time he touched the ball.
“Physically, I didn’t feel any pain or anything like that,” Cosby-Roundtree said. “We had some guys down with the flu and I just wanted to help our team get better in any way I could. They asked me if I wanted to practice and I did. I felt good the following day. They asked me every day how I felt and every day I felt good. I’ve been working with our trainer Dan (Erickson) getting ice, to make sure my body was good.”
Brandon Slater had 12 points while Eric Dixon and Caleb Daniels each had 11. Daniels found some of his shooting touch, hitting three 3-pointers. It was super senior, Collin Gillespie, who led the way though by having a complete game, with 13 points, six rebounds, and five assists.
“It’s always exciting to play in these Big Five games,” Gillespie said. “It was our biggest game because it was our next game and that’s something we always talk about. It’s a historical place (Palestra), and there’s a lot of great players that have been through here and great teams that have played before us. It’s always exciting to get back in here. The Big Five is a great tradition and we love to play in it.”
Khalil Brantley was the only Explorer to be able to score consistently, finishing with a 17-point night. La Salle only had one other player in double figures, with Jhamir Brickus scoring 13. La Salle couldn’t find any rhythm from behind the arc as Nova held them to 6/21 from three.
The ‘Cats will stay at the Palestra for their next game on Wednesday night, facing Penn in another Big Five clash.