Cats shipwreck Pirates
Junior guard Dominic Cheek had eight points in the win over Seton Hall. Lucas Migliarino
In its biggest win of the season to date, Villanova (10-10, 3-5 Big East) topped No. 24 Seton Hall (15-4, 4-3 Big East as of Jan. 24) last week, 84-76.
Junior point guard Maalik Wayns led the way with 25 points and seven assists, and freshman forward JayVaughn Pinkston earned his first double-double with 23 points and 11 rebounds, both season highs.
Sophomore guard James Bell contributed 18 points. While the Wildcats found their groove on offense, it was the solid defensive effort against the Pirates' standouts, namely senior point guard Jordan Theodore and senior forward Herb Pope, that made the difference.
The Wildcats stumbled in the opening seconds, turning the ball over on their first two possessions, but soon found a rhythm by scoring 11 unanswered points to take an early 19-9 lead.
The momentum began to build when freshman forward Darrun Hilliard hit a three after a Wayns layup, forcing Seton Hall to take a timeout.
Once the lead was established, Villanova stepped up the intensity on the defensive side of the ball, forcing Theodore to take tough shots and limiting Pope's touches.
While Wayns was the leading scorer, his best effort came while defending Theodore.
The Seton Hall point guard is averaging 16.3 points per game this season, but he shot just 2-for-16 from the field last Wednesday night. His only points came from beyond the arc or at the free throw line.
While Head Coach Jay Wright highlighted Wayns' performance, he was also pleased with the overall team defense.
"[Defense] is something that we have really been working on," Wright said, "Good defense is harder to play than good offense because you have to do it together. Everyone did it together tonight and that was big time."
Down low, junior center Mouphtaou Yarou limited Pope to just 10 points and five rebounds.
While Theodore and Pope struggled in the first half, Pirates freshman forward Brandon Mobley stepped up and hit three 3-pointers to keep the Wildcats from running away with the game early on.
Heading into halftime, the Wildcats held a solid nine-point lead. Five minutes into the second half, however, the Pirates pulled to within four following back-to-back 3-pointers from freshman guard Aaron Cosby and sophomore guard Fuquan Edwin. Edwin led all Pirates scorers with 14 points.
The Wildcats slowed the comeback by getting to the free throw line.
In total, the Wildcats shot 31 free throws in the second half, compared to just 10 in the first half.
Down the stretch, Pinkston snagged offensive rebound after rebound and earned his way to the line.
The freshman's best moment came midway through the second half when, just minutes after taking a flagrant foul from Mobley, he caught a pass from Wayns and spun past a defender.
On his way up to the basket, he took a foul from the Pirates' sophomore center Aaron Geramipoor, but made the bucket and hit the subsequent free throw.
Despite the struggles, Wright sees a team that has improved in its last two games. He credits their recent perfomance to simplification. By making roles and responsibilities less complicated, Wright is seeing greater effort from the players.
"They are still learning a lot of things, and it is hard to play with complete intensity when you are thinking," Wright said. "That is part of what is going on. We are trying to simplify what we are doing. I thought we gave great effort at Cincinnati and we had a really good effort again tonight. That can cover for a lot of things."
With a tough schedule ahead, efforts similar to what the Wildcats showed against Seton Hall will be key to notching some quality late-season victories.
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