All good things come to an end eventually.
For Villanova, its 22-game winning streak over DePaul was broken on Tuesday night at the Wintrust Arena in Chicago.
The Blue Demons pulled away in the second half and held off the ‘Cats to enjoy a 75-65 win, their first over the ‘Cats in 5,487 days.
DePaul last beat the ‘Cats on Jan. 3, 2008, an upset 84-76 win over then-ranked No. 17 Villanova. Although the ‘Cats weren’t ranked this time around, it was certainly still upsetting.
The ‘Cats pulled together some buckets late and gave DePaul a scare, but it wasn’t enough, as they ran out of time and DePaul managed to hang on.
“Hats off to DePaul, they came out and executed their game plan,” Villanova coach Kyle Neptune said. “Their kids played extremely hard and made some timely, tough shots.”
After a closely-contested first half where the ‘Cats clung onto a narrow 31-30 lead at the break, in part to a late foul call to trim the margin just seconds before the half, the Blue Demons turned the tide of the game with a massive 15-3 run that stretched just over five minutes.
Javan Johnson hit back-to-back shots that would ignite the big run and give the Blue Demons the lead for good.
The game-changing stretch was topped off by a second-chance bucket by Philmon Gebrewhit, who knocked down a three after an offensive rebound and assist by Da’Sean Nelson.
“We resilient in the first half, we got some stops down the stretch in the first half and unfortunately in the second half, they just got it going,” Neptune said.
The bucket prompted a Villanova time out, and the ‘Cats came out of the break strong with an Eric Dixon dunk, but they were unable to generate any momentum to overtake DePaul.
Villanova struggled with turnovers, coughing the ball up 14 times, which DePaul capitalized on and converted into 19 points off turnovers.
The Blue Demons also heated up from the perimeter in the second half, shooting a blistering 7-of-13 as a team (53.8%).
“They came out and made some tough threes, some deep ones, but I think what hurt us even more was they made some tough twos down the stretch,” Neptune said. “Overhand, some tough, tough twos — pivot, pivot, then shoot over guys. We have to get back to the drawing board and we got to get better.”
Whenever the Wildcats seemed to be gaining momentum, the Blue Demons had a quick answer to squash it. Villanova trimmed the deficit down to 58-56, after a pair of Eric Dixon free throws with 5:35 remaining, but that would be the closest it would get.
While Villanova would get to the line in the closing minutes, it didn’t shoot well from the floor down the stretch, making just two of their last 10 shot attempts as a team in the final six minutes.
Nelson sealed the victory with a series of free throws before the final buzzer, a fitting end to his career night and role in leading the Blue Demons over the ‘Cats.
“He’s a good player — he pivoted, took his time and made some shots over guys,” Neptune said of Nelson. “He was stronger than us, got to the rim and just bullied us.”
Nelson finished with 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting, with eight rebounds. Johnson supplied 18 points and was 4-of-6 from beyond the arc, with seven boards, three assists, three steals and a block. Eral Penn had 11 points, five rebounds and two blocks. Umoja Gibson chipped in 10 points, five assists and two steals.
For Villanova, Dixon had an impressive 22-point, 10-rebound double-double on 8-of-13 shooting, but had a team-low plus-minus rating of -17.
“I thought he was good offensively,” Neptune said of Dixon. “He’s a big burden one-on-one and Eric’s good down there when he can get a good one-on-one matchup.”
Cam Whitmore had 16 points, two steals and four turnovers. Caleb Daniels chipped in 12 points, but shot just 4-of-16 overall and 3-of-13 from deep, and dished out six assists. Chris Arcidiacono had three points, nine rebounds, one assist and one turnover. Brandon Slater had five points, six boards and four turnovers.
The ‘Cats drop back down below-.500 and now sit at 8-9 overall and 2-4 in Big East play. They return to action on Friday night, when they resume their road trip at Hinkle Fieldhouse for a game against Butler. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET.