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Wildcats Cruise Past Mount Saint Mary's Despite Slow Start

By Dave Jarman
On March 17, 2017

Photo courtesy of Mark Konezny and USA TODAY Sports

With 12:33 left in the second half, Darryl Reynolds grabbed an offensive rebound off of a missed three-pointer from Josh Hart and hit him with a pass as the 2017 Big East Player of the Year made a cut to the middle of the lane and scored a lay-up to extend Villanova’s lead to 51-35. A timeout by Mount Saint Mary’s was called after that lay-up, but it wouldn’t stop the momentum of the Wildcats. With a strong second half performance, Villanova defeated Mount Saint Mary’s 76-56 Thursday night. Donte DiVincenzo led the Wildcats with 21 points, all coming off the bench, Jalen Brunson had 14, and Mikal Bridges added 13 points as Villanova cruised into the second round of the NCAA Tournament.   

Yet at the start of the game, things weren’t going well for the Wildcats and there was a possibility that the 129 game win streak of number one seeds beating 16 seeds in the tournament was going to end. With 14:14 left in the first half, Mount Saint Mary’s guard Miles Wilson hits a jumper to put the 16th seeded Mountaineers ahead of the number one seeded Wildcats 7-0.

From the way Villanova was playing during the first six minutes of the opening half, it looked like history was going to be made; a 16 Seed defeating a one seed. Nova Nation was anxious at that point wondering if the defending National Champions were going to take an early exit in the NCAA Tournament this year. Villanova missed their first eight shots of the game, including four missed three-pointers. DiVincenzo made the first Wildcat field goal after Wilson’s jumper, as Villanova clawed its way back into the game in the first half. Kris Jenkins was also struggling in the first half, missing all seven of his shots, including four three-point attempts. 

Brunson was a bright spot in the first half, scoring 10 of his 14 points as he helped his team reduce their deficit. Despite taking a 30-29 lead at halftime, Villanova was struggling to match Mount Saint Mary’s energy.

“We didn’t come out (in the) first half with energy off the start,” said DiVincenzo

“We knew going into the game that they have the ability to play the way they did,” said Brunson. “They came out shooting the ball, sharing the ball and just playing with great energy. You got to give them credit”.  

Head coach Jay Wright agreed with his players, and could not understand why his team’s energy level was so low in the first half. 

“I honestly don’t know”, said Wright. “They (Mount Saint Mary’s) were just great They really outplayed us. They were better prepared, (Mount Saint Mary’s head coach) Jamion (Christian) had them better prepared than I did, and they played better”.  

At the start of the second half, the Wildcats came out with firing on all cylinders. In the first four minutes, the Wildcats went on a 10-0 run capped off by a steal and dunk from Eric Paschall. Along with a lay-up by Hart, the Wildcats made enough plays in the second half to secure the victory. DiVincenzo scored 15 of his 21 points, Hart would add 11, and Paschall helped out with 10 off the bench. The Wildcats outscored Mount Saint Mary’s in the paint by a margin of 44-24, and outrebounded them 43-27. While the Wildcats won the game in the second half, Jay Wright believes that his team’s talent and experience helped them win the game down the stretch.

“We just, at the end, had more size and some more talented players that just made plays,” said Wright. “We just had bigger, better athletes but they were a great team. I thought they were the better team tonight. And they deserve a lot of credit, a lot of credit”.  

With a quick turnaround, the Wildcats cannot afford to dwell on this game for long. Reynolds agreed that the team needs to admit to their mistakes, learn from them, and adjust quickly in time for their next game on Saturday.

“(We need to) admit to what we did wrong, figure out what we did wrong (in) this game, admit to our mistakes, put it behind us, and then get ready for Saturday,” said Reynolds.  

If Villanova has a similar first half against Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon, Wright says that his team will not advance.

“No, No,” said Wright. “I think they (his team) know that. But that’s not an excuse for not coming to play. But again, it’s all on us. It’s on our leadership. It’s on me. We’re lucky to advance. I think we’ll put it behind us and I think we’ll get ready (for Wisconsin)”.   

 

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