It’s a new year, but it was still the same old tightly-contested battle at the Prudential Center between Villanova and Seton Hall.
The No. 22-ranked Wildcats held off an undermanned, but extremely determined Seton Hall squad, besting the 15th-ranked Pirates on Saturday, 73-67.
Justin Moore knocked down the key go-ahead second-chance jumper with 1:36 to go to put Villanova up by one, and then he put together a clutch block in the closing seconds of the game.
The Wildcats made just enough free throws and made some key stops to stay on top, while Seton Hall’s attempts to salvage the game fell short.
“Classic game, once the game starts, it’s fun,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “I want to give Seton Hall credit, they battled their butts off. It’s really difficult to go against them, and even though they didn’t have two starters, it doesn’t diminish me being happy with our team.”
The Wildcats started off strong on both ends of the floor and grabbed an early lead, until Seton Hall settled in and took advantage of a cold-shooting stretch by the ‘Cats, plus a series of first-half turnovers to climb back into the game and take the lead at one point.
The Wildcats found their rhythm in the closing minutes of the first half. An Eric Dixon dunk to top off a single possession that included three offensive rebounds by the Villanova big man, followed by a Justin Moore bucket just before the buzzer gave the ‘Cats a 31-28 lead at the break.
After a back-and-forth stretch to open the second half, the ‘Cats gained some separation with a quick minute-long 6-0 blitz highlighted by a Collin Gillespie three and a Brandon Slater and-one. The Wildcats took better care of the ball, only turning it over six times in the second half, after racking up an uncharacteristic 11 turnovers to start the game.
“(Seton Hall) is so physical, we play every other game and we’re solid with the ball, but then you play them and they play with a level of physicality that no one else plays with,” Wright said. “Especially when you play them here. I saw them do it to Texas and that’s not a soft team, and they did it to Providence. They’re very physical.”
Seton Hall never went away quietly and started to chip away at the Wildcats’ lead. Even with players fouling out in the frontcourt or in foul trouble, Seton Hall used a late 7-0 run capped off by a couple Bryce Aiken free throws to take a 61-60 lead with two minutes to go.
Villanova buckled down and even though Seton Hall was able to extend the bout, the Wildcats hung on for the win.
“The beauty of it is when they get their guys back, they’re men — that’s what makes them so good,” Wright said of the Pirates.
Gillespie was the only Wildcat to find success from beyond the arc, draining four 3-pointers en route to a team-high 21-point performance before fouling out. Slater added 17 points and seven rebounds, including four on the offensive glass.
“I was really proud of him today, because he’s had some tough shooting nights,” Wright said of Slater. “If a player only defines himself whether his shots are going in or not, then he’s not much of a player. He’s got so much more to his game, and he found so many ways defensively to affect the game. He’s a big part of our team, and I think he’s starting to feel really confident in that.”
Moore had 13 points, five rebounds, two steals, a block and six turnovers. Jermaine Samuels provided an 11-point, 11-rebound double-double, with four blocks. Eric Dixon had four points and nine boards.
Bryan Antoine played an extended amount of minutes and finished with seven points, four rebounds and a block through 16 minutes of action on the bench.
Villanova was without Caleb Daniels, who is out on COVID protocols.
For Seton Hall, with key big men Ike Obiagu and Tyrese Samuel, and a few others out for COVID-related reasons, Aiken stepped it up and finished with a game-high 22 points. Jared Rhoden had 13 points, six boards, three steals and two blocks. Jamir Harris added a scoring punch off the bench, going 4-of-6 from three-point range and finishing with 12 points. Alexis Yetna had 10 points and eight rebounds before fouling out.
“It’s tough, but it is what it is at this point,” Seton Hall guard Myles Cale said. “Other teams in the country are going through that so we don’t look at it as a disadvantage, we just focus on the eight we have. A lot of the offensive rebounds could’ve been ours if we had the size.”
With the win, the Wildcats improve to 9-4 overall and 2-1 in Big East play. They return home for a Wednesday night game against the Creighton Bluejays, who picked up a double-overtime win over Marquette on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET.