The Villanova Wildcats beat DePaul for the 22nd straight time in a 67-43 rout last night at the Pavilion. The win was nothing out of the ordinary for ‘Nova, but it was a good one to get before their Big East schedule toughens up in February.
Here are three takeaways from the victory:
Winning the Easy Ones
The Blue Demons have not beat Villanova in 14 years. They are second to last in the Big East and had lost seven of their last eight games coming into yesterday’s contest. They were also without their best player and leading scorer Javon Freeman-Liberty, who is averaging 21 points and seven rebounds per game.
In short, DePaul stood little chance against Villanova, and this was a win the Wildcats were expected to have. Therefore, it was no surprise that the Wildcats beat a team they should beat. Regardless, it was nice to see ‘Nova take care of business in a manner fans have come to expect.
In a prototypical Villanova win, the Wildcats shot the 3-ball well and limited turnovers. What’s more impressive is that when Villanova’s lead shrank at the beginning of the second half, there was no panic from the Wildcats.
After a Justin Moore jumper put the ‘Cats up 12 with 16 minutes left in the game, the Blue Demons proceeded to go on a quick 6-0 spurt to make the score 40-34. While this was not a massive collapse, Villanova has struggled to close out games this season, and it seemed as if that all-too-familiar second half decline might be on the way.
Instead, Villanova had an immediate answer for DePaul, as a 3-pointer from Collin Gillespie put the lead back to nine. The ‘Cats did not look back after that, and they proceeded to add to their lead behind Justin Moore’s 16 points and Gillespie’s 14 points.
DePaul was never a huge threat to begin with, but a solid second half closeout from ‘Nova is a good sign nonetheless.
Tough on Defense and the Glass
While DePaul was without its leading scorer, the Blue Demons average around 76 points per game, and Villanova’s stifling defense held them to just 43. Additionally, the Blue Demons’ second-leading scorer, sophomore forward David Jones (15.8 PPG), was nearly kept scoreless the entire game. Jones might not have the same scoring prowess as Freeman-Liberty, yet it was no small feat for the Wildcats to completely shut down DePaul’s number one threat for the game.
Villanova also had eight steals, kept DePaul’s shooting percentage from the field at a meager 32.6%, and, perhaps most notably, outrebounded the Blue Demons.
With 6-foot-10 forward Yor Anei, 6-8 forward Brandon Johnson, and 6-11 center Nick Ongenda, DePaul has no shortage of height. The Blue Demons are one of the top rebounding teams in the country, let alone the Big East, and their 11.2 offensive rebounds per game is the 17th highest average in the nation. Despite DePaul’s daunting size, the smaller Wildcats had nine offensive rebounds to the Blue Demons’ seven.
Keeping DePaul off the glass was primarily Eric Dixon, who had a double-double with 10 rebounds and 11 points. He continues to come into his own with improved scoring ability and great rebounding, and his crucial role in the starting lineup will be one to keep an eye on later in the season.
With Dixon’s help, if Villanova can outrebound teams like DePaul despite a size disadvantage, that toughness could go a long way in their matchups against other towering Big East foes.
Decent Minutes from Unlikely Sources
Unsurprisingly, Justin Moore and Collin Gillespie led the way in Villanova’s victory. Yet, freshman Jordan Longino and junior Bryan Antoine played some valuable minutes in the game as well.
Coach Jay Wright’s reluctance to insert freshmen into the rotation is well-documented and discussed, but in a somewhat uncharacteristic move, Longino was subbed into a close game in the first half. Although Longino did not have a game-changing performance, he played 12 minutes (compared to his usual eight per game) and finished the game with four points, a steal, and two assists. What’s more important than his stats is that he did not look lost out on the court. He played good defense and even handled the ball decently, and his increase in minutes could be something to look out for.
Another player who saw an even greater increase in minutes was Antoine, as he played 21 minutes instead of his usual 14 MPG. Like Longino, his game stats do not jump out at you, as he had four points and two rebounds. However, his defensive effort and rebounding were solid, and he looked more comfortable on the court than in prior games. The scoring will hopefully improve for the former 5-star recruit as he gets back to full health, and as ‘Nova moves into a tougher part of its schedule, it will need all the offensive help it can get off the bench.
Coming up for the Wildcats on Saturday is a home game against St. John’s. Following that, Villanova will play three ranked teams in its next five games, which should be a crucial stretch in the crowning of the Big East regular season champ.