Playing in the Finn for the last time before heading out on a two-game road trip, the Villanova Wildcats edged out a 71-56 victory over the Providence Friars.
While the final score shows Villanova comfortably winning by 15 points, it certainly did not look like that would be the outcome with just over six minutes left in the first half with Providence leading 20-11. The ‘Cats looked out of sync throughout the entire first half. However, Villanova’s halftime adjustments and stellar defense not only kept them in the game, but led them to a win.
Three takeaways from the game:
Slow Start With An Impressive Finish
Saturday’s game was just Villanova’s second game back from their long hiatus due to COVID-19 and the lingering rust was evident in their first half performance. Most shots in the first half were front-rimmed, likely indicating that the players legs are not quite there yet and that they still need to get their fitness back up to where it was in December. While the adrenaline was flowing for their return to the court, the close call against Seton Hall and win over Providence, the ‘Cats aren’t 100% back yet.
At the end of the first half Villanova had only shot 27% from the floor and made 25% of their threes. This led to Providence being ahead by as many as nine points with six minutes remaining in the half. However, momentum changed after Colin Gillespie’s 3-point buzzer beater sending Villanova into the locker room down just 27-24 and going into the second half with optimism.
The Wildcats, no strangers to comebacks, quickly erased the deficit to begin the half. Villanova made 10 of its first 21 shots, and extended its lead with a 26-11 run after halftime. Six different players contributed to this spurt, led by Gillespie and Justin Moore. The game was seemingly on its way out of reach when Jermaine Samuels took a pass from Cole Swider and made a spectacular slam dunk with 6:34 minutes remaining in the game extending the ‘Cats margin to 60-45. The Wildcats kept control from there, maintaining a double-digit lead the rest of the way, outscoring Providence 47-29 in the second half.
Role Reversal On Offense And Defense
This year, Villanova’s offense has generally been its trademark while its defense has struggled at times. However, against Providence the roles were reversed. Villanova’s offense was dreadful in the first half, but their smothering defensive effort kept them in the game, giving up only 27 at halftime and 56 points in total. The ‘Cats forced 19 turnovers and held the Friars to 38% shooting.
They clamped down against Providence’s best players, David Duke Jr. and Nate Watson, who account for 50% of Providence’s scoring and are one of the top inside-outside combinations in the Big East. Watson was held to 12 points and Duke to 10, well below their 19 point per game average. The Duke-Watson tandem was limited to a combined 9-of-27 (33.3%) effort.
Additionally, the ‘Cats got both Watson and Duke into early foul trouble and hounded them consistently. Throughout the contest, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl did a fantastic job guarding the bigger Watson by taking charges and preventing him from getting good positioning around the basket. While he is still working through a tough shooting slump over these last couple of games, Robinson-Earl’s ability at both ends of the court has him looking like a future NBA player.
It was closer than the final score indicated
Ultimately, this game was much tighter than the final score of 71-56. It wouldn’t be surprising if Providence goes on one of its late-season streaks, heats up, and become a tournament team by the end of the year, as they have one of the best players in the Big East in David Duke and Nate Watson. Right now, ESPN bracketology has them under “First Four Out” entering the weekend.
It looks like A.J. Reeves who had 15 points in their upset win against Creighton, and freshman Alyn Breed, who had a team-high 18 points against Villanova, are developing into potential third and fourth options for Ed Cooley’s Friars.
Villanova was able to pull away at the end by drawing more fouls and getting more freebies from the foul line than their opponent. In total, Villanova was 11-for-13 in the second half (16-for-22 overall) as compared to the Friars 11 for 14 showing from the stripe for the entire game. It also helped getting its shots to drop after that cold-shooting spell in the first half, including a couple of highlight dunks from Samuels to inject some energy.
After missing so much time, the ‘Cats have a busy upcoming schedule, starting on Thursday at the Connecticut Huskies, who will be facing the ‘Cats for the first time as an official member of the Big East after spending the last seven years in the American. Then, they’ll face a Seton Hall Pirate team who will be out for revenge on their home floor next Saturday.