Playing in tiny McDonough Arena on Georgetown’s campus, with no fans in the arena, the atmosphere felt more like a preseason scrimmage rather than a classic Georgetown-Villanova rivalry game. This may account for some role in the Wildcats’ slow start, trailing by as much as 18 early in the first half. However, Villanova’s halftime adjustments and the leadership and fortitude of the upperclassmen led to a huge second half rally and big win in the ‘Cats Big East opener.
Upperclassmen leadership a huge factor for the Cats’ second half rally
After a sluggish start, Collin Gillespie and Caleb Daniels led Villanova back from a 13-point deficit by each making five three-pointers and finishing with 18 points apiece. Gillespie sparked a 15-0 run early in the second half, hitting back-to-back threes to pull ‘Nova to within seven. Later in the run, he hit another three to tie the game at 50.
Daniels added to the barrage. Daniels hit his fifth and final 3 to finish off a 13-2 run to top off the comeback effort and put the game away. It looked bleak at halftime, but clearly Gillespie and Daniels believed in their team’s ability to make a comeback and could be seen in the huddle motivating fellow players that a rally is possible. After Gillespie and Daniels got their team back into the game, they were supported by great bench production from juniors Cole Swider and Brandon Slater.
Swider made a couple big threes on the offensive end and Slater shut down one of Georgetown’s star players, Jamorko Pickett, on the defensive end of the court.
It started with Villanova’s veteran players, but it was contagious, as everyone stepped up and buckled down in the comeback victory.
Although the early deficit wasn’t ideal, it was great to see the Wildcats’ determination come through, as they beat an old rival but also get to start conference play with a win.
Tale of two halves
Villanova got off to a very slow start, but ended the game looking like a title contender. Georgetown was dominant in the first half, shooting 58.1% and holding Nova to 35.3% from the floor.
The Hoyas shot 50% from deep, while the ‘Cats only cashed in on 31.8%. Georgetown was dominant down low, as Hoyas’ big man Qudus Wahub scored all 12 of his points in the first half.
It all seemed to change after halftime, as Jay Wright’s adjustments and the team’s resilience led to a role reversal. The key to their resurgence happened on the defensive end of the court. Not having the size to combat Georgetown in the paint, Wright decided to front Wahab in the second half preventing him from getting the ball near the basket. He didn’t score a single point in the second half.
Additionally, Slater was assigned to help guard Pickett, who had hurt the ‘Cats with 14 first half points. Slater’s athleticism and length defensively frustrated Pickett in the second half, holding him to just one bucket after the break. Wright’s Wildcats did a terrific job of taking Jahvon Blair, Georgetown’s leading scorer at 20.3 points per game, out of the contest.
Blair was limited to 11 points in a rather quiet night.
Overall, the Wildcats’ defense suffocated the Hoyas, who shot just 26.7% overall in the second half. After hitting from long range early, Georgetown didn’t find the same success, only going 1-of-11 from beyond the arc in the second half.
While Villanova’s find its shooting stroke in the second half, the key to the rally was its ability to hold the Hoyas to just 17 second half points.
Georgetown is tougher than it seems
Georgetown certainly did not play like the last place team in the Big East, as predicted in the coaches’ preseason poll. Georgetown lost multiple players to graduation and had some transfer in and out. All in all, Georgetown has nine new players on their roster, including 6 freshmen. They’ve grown since their loss to Navy, playing West Virginia tough and beating Coppin State in lopsided fashion. They almost got ‘Nova.
Georgetown’s size and length bothered Villanova in the first half of this matchup. Wahab and Pickett dominated the boards and each provided 12 first half points. The Hoyas also heated up with threes from Blair, Pickett, transfer Chudier Bile, and freshman Dante Harris. Their aggressive defense gave Villanova fits, especially in the first half. The final score with Villanova winning by 13 was not representative of the tightness of the match. Until Villanova’s final 13-2 run it was a closely contested game separated by a couple of possessions, and the Hoyas had a real chance at the upset. The rematch back at Villanova later this season should be another fun one.