After a big triumph in the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis, Villanova played like the weather when they returned home — cold.
The Wildcats fell to Big 5 rival St. Joseph’s, 78-65, on Wednesday night and will be out of the running for the Big 5 crown.
“Congrats to St. Joe’s, hell of a win,” Villanova coach Kyle Neptune said. “They came out they were tough defensively, they made some really tough shots as well, and they played with a lot of energy and passion.”
In the Wildcats only loss on the year entering Wednesday, Penn opened the game in a zone, making it difficult for Villanova to penetrate the three-point line. In similar fashion, the Hawks opened the game in a zone, which Villanova once again struggled with.
“They shot 64% from three in the second half, 44 [percent] in the first half, 57% from the field for the game, I think that is where we got hurt,” said Neptune after he requested a printed copy of the stat sheet, when asked about the teams recent struggles with the zone.
Villanova, a team that generally prides itself on ball security committed 11 of 17 turnovers in just the first frame alone.
“They’re a really good team, they had great schemes,” Neptune said. “They got us, they were all moving and they got some matchups that they liked and they took advantage.”
Despite shooting 52% from the field (and 40% from three) at halftime, the Hawks zone was too much to overcome and the Wildcats found themselves down eight at the break.
The second half started bleak for the Wildcats as the Hawks connected on two quick threes to extend their lead to 14, before a Justin Moore layup stemmed the tide at the 15-minute mark.
The Wildcats would cut the lead to single digits by way of a Jordan Longino deep ball with 14:43 to go in the second half. A TJ Bamba free throw would cut the lead to eight, but that is as close as the Wildcats would get before a barrage of tough contested threes by the Hawks to put it away.
“There is likely not another coach in the country that respects Villanova University, the Augustinian values or Villanova basketball more than I do,” Hawks coach Billy Lange said. “This was a big part of my life, five years that I spent here, they’re just a great program.”
The story of this game for the Wildcats would be their inability to conquer the zone defense the Hawks threw at them from the start. Stagnant offensive possessions resulted in turnover after turnover, which St. Joe’s capitalized on to the fullest extent.
Adjustments were made by way of tinkering defensive sets by Kyle Neptune, but the Hawks had an answer for every single one. St. Joe’s shot 51.9% from deep connecting on several tough contested shots and open looks alike.
The Hawks were led by Erik Reynolds II’s 24 point outburst. Reynolds was 5-of-8 from behind the line. Freshman Xyzavier Brown chipped in 16 points and three assists of his own.
“I am so proud of him, you don’t even understand,” said teammate Erik Reynolds of Brown’s performance.
Lynn Greer III added 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting, while dishing out seven assists and racking up four steals. Rasheer Fleming added a 12-point, 11-rebound double-double.
“This will probably help a lot of St. Joe’s people enjoy their Mack and Manco’s pizza down the boardwalk a little bit more,” Lange added. “We needed to play well tonight and we did.”
As for the Wildcats, Justin Moore led the way with 17 points and five assists. Moore shot 6-of-16 overall, including 3-of-12 from deep, while also tallying five boards, three assists and four turnovers. Brendan Hausen was the only Wildcat on the positive side of the plus/minus stat finishing at +7 and connecting on three of his ten attempts from beyond the arc for a nine-point game. Eric Dixon had 14 points.
Next up for Villanova is a date with the Drexel Dragons in the fifth-place game of the Big 5 classic on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center.