Big 5 newcomer Drexel might not have gotten to play for the title, but it certainly aimed to make a statement in the fifth-place game against Villanova, who leads all Philadelphia-area programs in city titles, in the Big 5 Classic.
“This day is awesome for Philadelphia basketball,” said Drexel head coach Zack Spiker.
Despite the circumstances, the Nova Nation showed out in full force, filling up roughly 90% of the student section after spending two-plus hours in a cold, overcast parking lot before the game.
Unfortunately, the Wildcats did not meet the fans level of intensity, and never led in another disappointing Big 5 loss at the hands of Drexel, 57-55, on Saturday afternoon.
“I thought they came out and played very passionately on both sides of the ball, they made some really tough shots early, they made some really timely shots late,” Villanova coach Kyle Neptune said. “They really executed their stuff down the stretch. Lot of credit goes out to them.”
A Lamar Oden jumper with five and a half minutes to go gave the Dragons an eight-point advantage, its highest of the game.
Despite playing from behind throughout the close contest, the Wildcats staged a late comeback and had a chance to possibly snatch the game. Drexel had a three-minute drought towards the end, and the ‘Cats used a 7-0 run cut the lead to one point.
After a back-and-forth exchange and a time out with six seconds remaining in the game, Villanova got the look they wanted with a Justin Moore post-up in the final seconds, but Drexel’s Amari Williams swatted away the shot and Villanova’s chances of completing the comeback.
It was a common theme throughout the day, as the Wildcats were able to make it a one-possession game numerous times, but they were unable to overtake their opponent.
“Make shots, missed shots happen and then we pass out and defend and rebound and that’s what comes first,” said Eric Dixon.
Today a lot of missed shots happened, but not exactly from Dixon. The standout forward led the way once again, with a 21-point performance on 7-of-14 shooting. Outside of Dixon, Villanova shot 3-for-21 (14.2%) from deep and 13-of-47 (27.7%) overall.
“That’s going to happen throughout the course of the season, I thought we got some good looks, we just didn’t make them,” said Neptune.
The Wildcats are in a major funk. With the loss, they have now lost three Big 5 games for the first time in at least a few decades.
This was another game where Villanova struggled with a zone. Drexel deployed both a 2-3 and a 3-2 zone on Saturday afternoon and Villanova could not find any rhythm on the offensive end.
“I think you play zone for a couple of different reasons,” said Spiker. “Maybe just to save a little wear and tear and limit their ability to be effective close to the basket and contest threes.”
In a game where Mark Armstrong did not attempt a shot in 15 minutes of action, Brendan Hausen went 0-for-4 from deep, and Justin Moore and Tyler Burton went for a combined 2-19 from the field, Villanova somehow remained competitive to the very end, even after a slow start that was marred by uncharacteristic turnovers, free-throw shooting and the Dragons shooting better than usual from deep.
“We just got to be consistent, it’s a long year and this is a part of our growth process for this team. Every team is 100% different, but this is the path that we’re in right now” said Neptune.
The Wildcats are far too talented and experienced to continue this downward trend. Offensive rebounding was a glaring bright spot in this game and the shots that are not falling now will regress positively to the mean eventually. This is a long season and Villanova is still in a position to control their own destiny, but they will need to make adjustments quickly, with a brutal stretch of games lined up on the schedule.
“You know, we can’t control what people say,” Neptune said. “All we can do is get better from that, move on and go to the next game and try to be the best team we can be at the end. That’s all we can do.”
Aside from Dixon’s game-high 21 points, Jordan Longino was another bright spot, especially on the offensive end, contributing 13 points and four rebounds, including three on the offensive glass. The Wildcats brought down 16 offensive rebounds as a team, which led to 13 second chance points.
As for the Dragons, they entered with the 353rd best three-point shooting percentage in the nation, but went 8-for-16 (50.0%) as a team from deep. Amari Williams led a balanced scoring attack contributing 12 points, six rebounds and five blocks including a game sealing rejection on Villanova’s Justin Moore. Luke House contributed 11 points, including three buckets from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, Lamar Oden Jr., Justin Moore, and Yame Butler all contributed seven points apiece.
The Wildcats drop to 6-3 overall and will try to bounce back after back-to-back losses. They will hit the road next for the Big East-Big 12 Battle, with a trip to Kansas State on Tuesday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET.