It was a close game with the Wildcats taking a 10-point lead early in the second half before giving it all back shortly after. The 'Cats didn't let hard-times get to them, fighting back into the game and ultimately tying things up at the end of regulation. A last-minute buzzer-beater needed an after-the-buzzer tip to go through, which was called off by the officiating crew to send the game into overtime.
"I see great potential in this group," said Wright. "I see a lot of work, too."
"No matter how much you say in practice, they don't understand it. This will be a great lesson for us. We learned you've got to be strong with every play.''
The 'Cats had some help from the referees - who could hardly be accused of calling a great game - with a controversial flagrant foul called at the end of regulation, giving Villanova a chance to tie the game and the ball. Helped or not to get there, however, the Wildcats needed to settle in and play a sharp game to prevail in overtime, which they did, winning 89 to 81 over the Purdue Boilermakers.
Ken Pomeroy wrote that the foul call (which he classified as 'technically correct') was worth a 30% bump in the Wildcat's chances of victory during the game. Going 10-of-10 from the free throw line down the stretch was also helpful.
"I got hit," Hilliard told reporters afterward. "In the heat of the moment it didn't hurt but he caught me in the chin. Coach told me to keep my hands off him but he flung his elbow and he hit me and I fell back. It was a great call."
Villanova moves to 3-0 on the season with the win and will play Alabama tomorrow night for the 2k Sports Classic title.
Ryan Arcidiacono had a hot start to the game, leading the team with 10 points on 3-4 shooting from beyond the arc in the first half. Only two of the star freshman's first-half shots were from inside the NBA three-point line, including an off-balance circus-three-pointer that was drawn into the basket by some form of voodoo. He would finish the game with 18 points on 3-12 shooting, missing all of his 3-point attempts in the second half and overtime, but adding eight more points at the free-throw line.
He added 5 assists, 3 rebounds and a steal as well, but also turned the ball over a game-high 7 times.
Darrun Hilliard, meanwhile, took over where Arch left off. Finding his stroke later in the game, he went 2-of-3 from deep and 7-of-10 from the floor, adding six more points from the charity stripe for a career-high 23 points. Hilliard also came through with three rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks for the Wildcats.
In overtime, James Bell landed a pair of triples that helped keep the team ahead with a small lead, though he had gone 1-8 from distance during regulation. He kept shooting through his early struggles because of Jay Wright's coaxing, advising him to "Shoot 'em up. Sleep in the streets" -- a philosophy that says that even if you aren't making them, you have to take the shots and risk "sleeping in the street" if you throw up a ton of bricks.
The Wildcats outshot the Boilermakers from deep and from the charity stripe in the game. They made just 34.8% of their 3-point attempts, but Purdue connected on just 21.7%. On free-throws, Purdue struggled mightily, making just 57.1% of those attempts, while Villanova landed 80.5% of theirs.
The 'Cats were also more proficient at getting to the line, taking 41 shots from the stripe.
Purdue was the better team in a few categories, however. Winning the rebounding battle 40-38 and owning the offensive glass 15-10, the Boilermakers were not too concerned about Nova's frontline. They also had 19 assists on 30 made baskets, while Villanova recorded only 9 assists in the game.
Both teams played hard and while many in Nova Nation lamented that the 'Cats couldn't hold on to a 10-point lead in the second half, the 'Cats didn't disappear down the stretch either. They took advantage of the opportunity in overtime to seal a win -- survive and advance. For a team looking to replace its two leading scorers from last season (and two would-be seniors), that is a pretty good accomplishment.
Next up for the Wildcats is a meeting with Alabama, who won the early semifinal at MSG, against Oregon State. The 'Cats will face the Red Tide tomorrow night at 7:30pm in New York. The Crimson Tide knocked off South Dakota State in the early rounds on a buzzer-beater and advanced past Oregon State in another tight contest to reach the final.