The Villanova Wildcats were able to win their sixth game in seven tries, completing the regular-season sweep of the Seton Hall Pirates with a 76-72 win at the Rock. The Wildcats improved to 16-14 overall and 10-9 in the Big East, clinching the six-seed in next week’s Big East Tournament.
In classic Villanova fashion, after the game, Villanova coach Kyle Neptune preached the importance of being the best team they could be by the end of the season.
“Our thought process will always is to try to be the best team we can be by the end of the season,” Neptune said when asked about the team’s recent hot-streak. “Hopefully we can reach our goal. To do that, we just gotta keep getting better and I think we are.”
With the loss, the Pirates fall to 16-14 overall and 9-10 in the Big East. The Pirates were short-handed tonight missing starting guard Kadary Richmond, who was nursing a back injury, for the second straight game.
Once again, the Wildcats were able to take control of the game using their defense, after both teams came out firing to start. The first half looked like a three-point shootout with both teams draining seven 3-pointers each shooting a combined 14-of-27 from three. The ‘Cats trailed at half, 37-34.
“They’re a good team, they’re playing at home,” Neptune said of Seton Hall’s hot start. “We expected it to be a tough game. To their credit, they made some tough shots and we had to recover from it.”
The second half was a different story – Villanova held Seton Hall without a field goal for the first five minutes of the half and only allowed one three-point field goal. After only five fouls in the first half, there were 29 in the second half.
“[Seton Hall] made some tough shots early,” Neptune said of Seton Hall’s game tonight. “I thought our defense was decent. Then in the second half, they really hit us on the offensive glass. It is what it is, [Seton Hall is] a really good team, they just find ways. I am really proud of our guys, I thought we were pretty resilient.”
It was an ugly second half, baskets never came easy, and despite Shaheen Holloway taking over for Kevin Willard, the Pirates remained a scrappy bunch when the ‘Cats came to town. A 6-0 run late in the second half allowed Villanova to take the lead, and even as Seton Hall responded with a couple of baskets, the Wildcats never faltered.
“We’ve been in tough games all year long. We are pretty seasoned to playing in single possession, end of the game type of situations,” Neptune spoke of Villanova’s composure down the stretch of tonight’s game. “I think it is something that our guys have become comfortable playing in and now I think it is starting to pay dividends now that we’re at the end of the season.”
It came down to inbounding and the free-throw line, and Villanova did what Villanova does. The best free-throw shooting team in the nation was able to ice the game at the line shooting a near-perfect 22-of-23.
“We’ve got guys we are really confident in,” Neptune said of Villanova’s clutch late-game free-throws. “Justin Moore, I think, made about 6 or 7 at the end there. He is a big-time player. We expect nothing less.”
Justin Moore led the way with 23 points, and 9-of-9 from the line knocking down some key late free-throws. Eric Dixon followed up his career-high on Saturday adding another 18 points and eight rebounds going 9-of-10 from the charity stripe. He also had a key steal that officially sealed any hopes for Seton Hall snatching the game in the final seconds.
“[Dixon] has been unbelievable,” Neptune praised his star big-man. “He’s scoring some points but really, he’s been really good defensively and on the glass. Early in the year, guys were going at him a little bit, and now I don’t see that anymore. I think because he’s taken his game to the next level defensively, he has more confidence offensively.”
Cam Whitmore continues to improve his efficiency and stay hot. Whitmore finished with 17 points going 3-of-4 from three and grabbing 5 rebounds. When Whitmore pushed the ball in transition, he was impossible to stop.
Caleb Daniels seems to have found his stroke after struggling the past few games. Daniels added nine points on 3-of-5 shooting from long range.
For the Pirates, Al-Amir Dawes caught fire from three in the first half and finished with 21 points on 3-of-5 from three, all three makes coming in the first half. Femi Odukale finished with a double-double scoring 14 points and grabbing 10 rebounds for the Hall. Tyrese Samuel also chipped in 14 hard-earned points. As a team, the Pirates amassed 12 offensive rebounds, but the ‘Cats were able to weather the storm and minimize the damage from their second-chance opportunities.
The Wildcats’ will have an opportunity to improve their tournament hopes Saturday night in South Philadelphia as they welcome the 14th-ranked UConn Huskies to the Wells Fargo Center. The Wildcats and Huskies close the regular season Saturday at 7:30 pm ET and can be viewed on FOX.