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Villanova holds on for thrilling 76-74 victory against Providence

The ‘Cats finish the season 12-1 at home.

NCAA Basketball: Providence at Villanova Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Villanova picked up an impressive win against No. 9 Providence, 76-74, Tuesday night at Finneran Pavilion. Caleb Daniels led the way with 20 points for Villanova. Collin Gillespie added 14 in the win for the ‘Cats, and Eric Dixon had a solid night with 15 points as well. Saint Joe’s transfer, Jared Bynum, led the way for Providence with 19 points. The victory finishes Villanova’s season at home with a record of 12-1 and 9-1 at Finneran Pavilion.

Before the game even started, the big development out of the Providence locker room was that starting guard, Al Durham, would not play against the ‘Cats. However, that did not stop the Friars from playing like the No. 9 team in the country.

After a 14-point lead for the Wildcats at halftime, Providence stormed back to tie the game at 51. Villanova pulled away multiple times but the Friars kept fighting, just like they have done all season. The Wildcats squeaked out the two-point victory to send the fans home happy. Villanova head coach Jay Wright applauded Ed Cooley’s team and acknowledged the fans in the win.

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“They deserve a lot of credit without Durham to play like that here,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “Really appreciate our fans. Our students are on spring break, so I appreciate our fans making that a great environment.”

Caleb Daniels was the leader of the second half for the ‘Cats as he scored 14 of his 20 points after halftime.

“It’s just being confident and stepping up for my teammates,” Daniels said. “Guys had been making plays the whole game, and those are the moments where I have to step up and make those plays. No matter what, I have to step up for my brothers.”

After being tied with the Friars at 24 in the first half, the ‘Cats used a 16-2 first half run to go up 14 at the break. That run would prove to be crucial as the ‘Cats escaped a furious Providence comeback.

The 14-point lead at halftime was the largest for Villanova since the game against St. John’s in January.

“That was huge for us,” said Wright, on the run to close the first half. “We had young guys out there, Chris Arcidiacono (and) Jordan Longino. Jermaine (Samuels) and Eric (Dixon) were both in foul trouble. So, to be able to increase our lead there, was really important. And I told those guys in the halftime locker room that I was really proud of them.”

This was the last home game for Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels. In playing during the game, Gillespie became the second-leading player in games played for Villanova (147). Gillespie will tie Kris Jenkins for most all time in Villanova’s next game against Butler.

“Yeah, I think that’s what the Big East is all about,” said Gillespie, noting it was fitting to have a battle in his final Pavilion game. “It’s always a battle and always intense.”

Speaking of the Big East, the conference tournament in New York will start next week. The Wildcats earned the #2 seed and will play Thursday night (March 10). A game like this one against Providence was solid preparation for what is ahead next week.

“I think the Big East Tournament is going to be incredible,” said Wright. “We know anybody in this league can beat anyone in a neutral court up there. It’s going to be really, really good basketball.”

With the win, Villanova improves to 22-7 overall and 15-4 in the BIG EAST. Again, next up for the ‘Cats is a road game in Indianapolis this Saturday against the Butler Bulldogs, who Villanova defeated by 40 earlier in the season.

Meanwhile, with the loss, Providence dropped to 24-4 overall and 14-3 in the BIG EAST.