Although Villanova shot 6-of-28 (21%) from the floor in the first half and trailed by 17 points at halftime, the Wildcats rallied and had a chance to escape with a win in the final seconds of the game.
However, a tip-in basket with five seconds remaining from Providence’s David Duke sealed the Friars’ 54-52 victory.
During the loss, the Wildcats were without leader Collin Gillespie, as he suffered a torn MCL during a win against Creighton on Wednesday. His injury was devastating for Villanova, and it has given him a lot to think about regarding his future.
“I’m considering it,” said Gillespie when asked about taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility the NCAA is granting many players. “But I haven’t really thought about it or made any decisions on it yet. I’m kind of just taking it one day at a time. I’m going to get the surgery and start to rehab afterwards and then later on down the line, depending on how I feel, I’ll sit down with the coaches and my parents about my decision. But I really haven’t thought about it at all yet.”
Another injury plagued the Wildcats against Providence, as Villanova guard Justin Moore left the game with a sprained ankle at the 5:37 mark in the first half.
“I mean it was pretty severe,” said Villanova coach Jay Wright about Moore’s injury. “[Health officials] said right away he’s not going to return [against Providence] so I think we’ll get an MRI tonight or tomorrow.”
Without two of their top scorers, Villanova struggled offensively while Providence went 16-of-26 (62%) from the floor in the first half. This difference resulted in Providence’s 38-21 lead at halftime.
However,, Villanova did not go out quietly, as it opened the second half with 11 straight unanswered points to cut Providence’s lead to six, making it 38-32. Leading the Wildcats’ rally was senior Jermaine Samuels, who had 21 points and eight rebounds.
“What was said at halftime was basically going back to playing Villanova basketball, regardless of the score,” said Samuels about the Wildcats’ second half surge. “That was the only thing being discussed at half.”
Following the 11-0 run, ‘Nova went on a nearly seven-minute scoring drought. Providence then pushed the lead back to 12 after a Duke layup made the game 44-32 with 13:38 remaining in the second half.
The Friars’ potent duo of Duke and center Nate Watson overpowered the Wildcats. The two combined for 40 points and 11 rebounds, and ‘Nova did not have a solid defensive answer to their scoring abilities this time around, after keeping them quiet in the previous outing.
“We let him get it going,” said Wright about Watson. “He just got it where he wanted to right from the start of the game, and once he gets it going he’s got a good feel and it’s kind of tough to stop.”
Despite the dominance of Duke and Watson, Villanova continued to play hard and shot the ball marginally better in the second half.
Following a Samuels layup, Villanova had their first lead since the opening minute of the game, and the score was tight at 50-49 with 2:30 left in the second half.
In the final minutes, missed opportunities haunted the Wildcats. Villanova’s Brandon Slater missed two free throws with 36 seconds left and the team missed nine (14-of-23) over the course of the game. After two made free throws from Samuels knotted the score at 52-52 with 16 seconds remaining, Duke’s clutch tip-in with five seconds left put the Friars up two.
“We definitely had our chances,” said Wright. “We had free throws, we had shots at the rim, it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Although Providence held the lead in the final seconds of the game, a three-point miss from Jeremiah Robinson-Earl off a beautiful full-court inbound pass from Eric Dixon almost gave the ‘Cats a miraculous win. Robinson-Earl finished the game with a double-double, posting 11 points and 13 rebounds and falling just short of a game-winning buzzer beater.
The Wildcats (16-5, 11-4 Big East) will look to come back stronger for the upcoming Big East Conference Tournament. Villanova, as the first seed, gets a bye to Thursday’s quarterfinal.