After beating 12th-seeded Winthrop in the first round when some “experts” thought they would get upset, Villanova looked like they were up against a classic trap game versus 13th-seeded North Texas.
If it was in fact a trap game, it was not a trap the Wildcats came particularly close to tripping over as Jay Wright’s team beat the Mean Green, 84-61.
Even as the ‘Cats were down early, the game got out to an auspicious start as Chris Arcidiacono (6 PTS, 2-3 3PT) hit his first two field goals of the entire season — both of which were three-pointers.
“He was ready, he’s a good shooter,” Jay Wright said. “I mean it didn’t surprise us, he’s a good shooter. But they wouldn’t know that ‘cause you don’t really get to see him play that much.”
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After the second of Arch’s triple’s put Villanova ahead, 23-21, they never gave up the lead again. From that point on, a couple of threes from Cole Swider (9 PTS, 3 ASTS) and five points from Jermaine Samuels (18 PTS, 9 RBDS, 4 ASTS) led the Wildcats to a 47-27 halftime lead that was topped off by a 34-6 run.
After the break, North Texas made a push to close the deficit through two threes from Mardrez McBride (11 PTS, 3 RBDS, 3 ASTS) and two buckets from Javion Hamlet (25 PTS, 6 RBDS, 4 ASTS) before the 14:00 mark, when the score was closed to 15 points at 55-40.
Wright credited Swider’s effort contributing to double teams on Hamlet, amongst the entire’s teams effort, as the ‘Cats defense helped them to pull ahead.
From that point, however, Jeremiah Robinson Earl (15 PTS, 6 RBDS, 6 ASTS), Justin Moore (15 PTS, 4 RBDS, 5 ASTS), and Eric Dixon (4 PTS) contributed to a 12-2 run that extended the Wildcats’ lead to 25 points.
About that run and the time that surrounded it, Samuels said that going back to the team’s “values” and “playing Villanova basketball”, simplifying the game, led to the Wildcats having the ability to putting this game out of reach.
Grant McCasland’s underdogs continued to push to close the deficit from that point on, but Villanova’s best shooting night in weeks (55.4%, 50% from 3) was simply too much for them to overcome.
“Everything looks great when the shots are going in,” Wright said. “I think our guys have learned to play through some games where the shots weren’t going in, and I think that’s important for us. I think we played well enough defensively that if we weren’t shooting that we still would have had a shot.”
Following this Round of 32 win, the Wildcats have to face up against the top team in the South region, the No. 1-seeded Baylor Bears.
“They’re awesome, we played them last year,” Wright said. “They’ve got all the same guys back that beat us last year, and we lost a first-round draft pick. We know how good they are, but we got a few days of practice here and try to prepare. I think they’ve been one of the best teams in the country, them and Gonzaga all year. We’re going to get to play the best and that’s why you play the NCAA Tournament. You look forward to these types of games.”
That game will tip off at a time to be determined next Saturday.