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Three takeaways from Villanova’s win over St. Joe’s

A quick little non-conference detour against a Big 5 foe before returning to Big East play.

2K Empire Classic Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

In the 78th meeting of the “Holy War” matchup, the Villanova Wildcats defeated the St. Joseph’s Hawks. The Wildcats’ 88-68 victory in the meeting of Big 5 foes moves them to 7-1 on the season and 2-0 at home in the Finneran Pavilion. The Hawks, who are now 0-4 on the season, have not beaten ‘Nova in this matchup since 2011.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

Unexpected Big 5 game

The Villanova Wildcats had not been scheduled to face any of the other Big 5 teams this season, due to COVID-19 problems at other schools or scheduling conflicts, so this last-minute decision to face St. Joe’s was a bonus. Not so much for the fans that would have liked a top 25 matchup, but at least for the players and coaches. The ‘Cats had been scheduled to play the Virginia Cavaliers, but due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the Cavaliers’ program, that game had to be cancelled.

A quick phone call a few days in advance between former ‘Nova assistant and current St. Joe’s head coach, Billy Lange, and Jay Wright allowed this game back on after previously being postponed. Rival matchups working back into schedules unexpectedly could be one upside of this historic season filled with more last minute arrangements than the gift-shopping being done this final weekend before Christmas.

“The players don’t think they need a break, and I just know they’ve done such a good job,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said after the game, regarding the way his team is taking in all of the last-minute scheduling changes in stride.

Despite the lopsided nature of the rivalry in recent years, Wright still believes it’s still a special one. While he couldn’t have imagined playing a Big 5 game in an empty arena, he feels the teams made up for it with the way they played on the court.

“The intensity on the court was the same, but it was strange,” Wright said. “A St. Joe’s-Villanova game is like a social happening here in Philadelphia. You got a lot of St. Joe’s and Villanova people that are in the family, friends, neighbors. Not having that here was strange.”

Robinson-Earl’s leadership despite a broken nose, mask

This was not Jeremiah Robinson-Earl’s first time playing a game of basketball while wearing a mask.

Robinson-Earl explained in a postgame press conference that he had broken his nose before in the eighth grade. The mask he wore in Saturday night’s game was the same mask he had worn the first time he broke his nose. Robinson-Earl’s mother found the mask and knew he would need it after watching her son’s injury during the Butler game.

Robinson-Earl took an elbow to the nose during their game against Butler this past Wednesday. He said he knew right away what had happened and that it was going to be broken. The 6-foot-9 forward said that the mask is less distracting than you would expect. That claim must hold true as the sophomore lead the ‘Cats in scoring with 25 points, showing that he continues to step up for his team even when Wright thought that the team may have to step up for him. Although it was a nice all-around effort with three other Wildcats — Justin Moore, Caleb Daniels, and Jermaine Samuels — also scoring in double figures.

Both coach Wright and Robinson-Earl agreed that Robinson-Earl’s game has “slowed down” in his sophomore year. Robinson-Earl says he stops thinking about habits so much and has really gotten into playing true Villanova basketball in his second year with the program. Robinson-Earl’s comfort and confidence is noted as he continues to stand out as a top performer for the ‘Cats and prove his potential readiness for the 2021 NBA Draft.

The Wildcats take care of the basketball

The ‘Cats continue to impress with their ability to take care of the ball and capitalize when their opponent does not. The ‘Cats ended the game with nine total turnovers compared to the Hawks 15 total turnovers.

They also converted St. Joe’s mistakes into 21 points off turnovers. Aside from that, Villanova also took care of things on the glass. The ‘Cats had 11 offensive rebounds and made the Hawks pay by clinching 12 second chance points. This was crucial to Villanova’s success as St. Joe’s made perimeter shots tough for the ‘Cats early on.

The Wildcats are the second-ranked team with the fewest turnovers per game, just behind Wisconsin with 8.4, in all of Division I college basketball. The ‘Cats continued that trend Saturday night.

The St. Joe’s Hawks showed up scrappy and ready to play. They did not make it easy for the Wildcats, until the ‘Cats really started to look like themselves by the second half. They began to move the ball well and had a stretch of solid defense in the second half that extended and solidified their lead.

Now, they’ll put that behind them and prepare for Marquette on Wednesday night.