Ankle injuries appeared to be a major concern entering Tuesday night, but Collin Gillespie was healthy enough to carry the team on his back.
The senior guard racked up a career-high 33 points and hit the three-point dagger with 29 seconds left to shut down a raucous Dunkin Donuts Center to help No. 10 Villanova escape with an 89-84 win over No. 8 Providence.
While Gillespie provided the late-game close-out heroics, his teammate Justin Moore, who also had his share of ankle ailments, didn’t appear to be slowed down either.
“I’m so proud of Collin and Justin,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “They don’t sit out. They’re not practicing, their ankles are swollen, and they were both tremendous tonight. Providence has players banged up, every team in our league does at this point in the season. These kids are just so tough. They don’t sit out in this league.
“Whenever we needed a play, Collin and Justin were there for us. That’s experience.”
Moore provided an early spark, getting off to a strong start to get ‘Nova going in the back-and-forth battle. He tormented the Friars from opening tip, draining open shots but even the ones where he had a hand in his face. He had 18 of his 19 points in the first half, as the Wildcats took a 46-39 lead at the break.
When Moore started to taper off, the rest of the ‘Cats appeared to find a groove.
After recent games where the Villanova had to mostly rely on physicality and interior play to score to make up for their struggles from beyond the arc, the Wildcats were able to balance things out. They shot 11-of-23 (47.8%) from deep and picked Providence’s defense apart.
The Friars kept up with the ‘Cats for a majority of the game, but even in the moments where they were able to briefly hold the lead, Villanova was able to counter with big baskets and stops. Neither team led by double figures, but even in the closely-contested match, the ‘Cats dictated control and pace for a majority of the way.
“Coming into a hostile environment,” Moore said. “We lean on each other, we come in and compete and play for each other.”
They fended off Providence and prevented the Friars from building game-changing momentum in the second half.
“It’s leaning on each other, knowing that there are going to be tough moments,” Gillespie said. “We just had to keep a great road attitude and stay together for 40 minutes.”
Providence struggled from the arc, shooting just 5-of-23 (21.7%) from long range, but it dominated the paint, outscoring the ‘Cats inside, 50-32.
Nate Watson paced the Friars with 20 points and six boards. Jared Bynum chipped in 18 points and a pair of steals. A.J. Reeves added 16 points, and Al Durham finished with 13 points and four rebounds.
For Villanova, aside from Gillespie’s big-scoring night, Moore had a 19-point, 10-rebound double-double. Brandon Slater had a quietly good all-around game with 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting, with four boards, three assists and solid defense against his assignments. Caleb Daniels added nine points after a slow start and was the lone bench presence, accounting for 23 of 28 reserve minutes.
With the win, the Wildcats improve to 20-6 overall and 13-3 in conference play. They also keep the race for the Big East regular season title alive, as the Friars’ grip over first place loosens up a bit with the Wildcats’ win.
“That was a great Big East basketball game, great environment, with two outstanding teams,” Wright said. “A lot of great players and big time plays. It was hard for both of us to stop each other. Just a great college basketball game, proud of our guys coming into this environment.”
Villanova returns to action on Saturday against Georgetown, when they return home to the Finneran Pavilion. Tip-off is scheduled for 5 p.m. ET and will be on FOX.