#22 Wildcats Start New Year With 73-67 Win At #15 Seton Hall

Junior guard Justin Moore scored 13 points in the win.

NEWARK, N.J. — In its first game action in 11 days, Villanova showed no rust, opening up its New Year’s Day game against 15th-ranked Seton Hall on an 11-2 run and making several crucial last minute free throws en route to a 73-67 win. 

While a notable contingent of ‘Cats supporters were present at the Prudential Center in Newark for the 2 p.m. tip-off, the crowd, unsurprisingly, remained a majority of Pirates’ fans. The pandemic continues to loom large in the sports world, and that could be seen simply by taking a look at Seton Hall’s bench. The Pirates only had eight players active, with their two best big men out due to COVID-19. While Villanova’s bench was significantly more full, senior sixth man Caleb Daniels, who averages 9.5 PPG and 3.9 RPG, was out due to a positive COVID-19 test as well. 

The 11-2 run by the ‘Cats to open up the first 4:55 of the game, led by a quick four points and an assist from senior forward Brandon Slater, perhaps provided the impression that playing against a shorthanded Seton Hall roster would lead to an easy win for Villanova. Slater’s quick start gave a sign of the type of game he would have, as he had his best performance since early December with 17 points, seven rebounds, two assists, and several clutch free throws, shooting 7-8 from the line in the game. However, no win comes easy against a team coached by Kevin Willard, who is in his 11th season as the Pirates’ Head Coach. Villanova head coach Jay Wright said as much, stating, “There is no way we came in here thinking, ‘They are down two starters, this is going to be an easy game.’” 

Off of two made free throws from graduate forward Jermaine Samuels, Villanova maintained an 18-12 lead with 7:53 remaining in the first half, but the Prudential Center’s volume continued to grow as the Pirates responded with a 13-2 run over the next 3:25 to pick up a 25-20 lead of their own. However, there was no panic from the ‘Cats, and they rebounded to take a 31-28 lead into the half.

While Slater and graduate point guard Collin Gillespie, who put up 21 points, four rebounds, two assists, and shot 4-8 from three point range, led the way for Villanova, the win was a total team effort, as Seton Hall would simply not go away. Although lead changes were not frequent during the duration of the game, the game itself remained tight to the very end, with Seton Hall’s Bryce Aiken, a transfer from Harvard, leading the scoring for the Pirates with 22 points off the bench. 

With less than seven minutes remaining, Villanova led 54-45, but Seton Hall cut that lead to 55-54 with 5:46 to go, only for the Wildcats to extend the lead back to 60-54 about a minute later. The Pirates would take a brief 61-60 lead with 2:00 remaining, but junior guard Justin Moore hit a go-ahead jumper to put the ‘Cats back in front with a lead that they would not relinquish.

Slater and Gillespie’s contributions were critical, but three other keys to success and ultimately coming out of Newark with a win were the play of junior guard Bryan Antoine, a clutch team free throw shooting performance, and a vastly positive rebounding differential, led by Samuels, who had 11, and junior forward Eric Dixon with nine. In Daniels’s absence, Antoine stepped up with seven points and four rebounds in 16 minutes of action off the bench. From the free throw line, the team shot 25-30 (83.3%), and the Wildcats outrebounded Seton Hall 42-29. 

Next up for the Wildcats is a rematch against Creighton at the Finneran Pavilion on Wednesday, Jan. 5, in which Villanova will look to avenge a 20-point loss to the Bluejays in Omaha.