There were visible tears in Eric Paschall’s eyes as he walked off the court. Phil Booth looked stunned, as if the reality of the situation had still not set in. This was not the ending these two seniors had dreamt of, nor was it the one they deserved.
Just 57 seconds remained before the worst NCAA Tournament loss in program history would go final. An 87-61 thrashing at the hands of Purdue had left Booth and Paschall feeling something they had seldom felt during their fruitful Villanova careers – utterly defeated.
From the start, it was clear that it would not be the Wildcats’ night. Four threes from Carson Edwards in the game’s opening five and a half minutes had put the Boilermakers ahead, 19-10, foreshadowing what was to come. Purdue would go on to total 16 triples in the game, nine of which came from Edwards. The Boilermakers star guard racked up a career high 42 points to lead his team to what can only be described as a commanding victory. As hot as Purdue’s shooting was, The Wildcats’ could not have been much colder. ‘Nova finished the game just 34.5% from the field, a number which stood in stark contrast to the Boilermakers’ 53.7%. The ‘Cats were not helped by their rebounding efforts, as they gave up 10 offensive boards to Purdue in the first half alone.
For Villanova’s two senior leaders, the loss certainly hurt deeply. Yet, while the bigger picture may have been hard to see from the locker rooms in Hartford, Conn., a broader perspective reveals that both Booth and Paschall will go down as all-time Villanova greats.
By appearing in 147 games, Booth set the all-time mark for most games played in Villanova basketball history. With his 15 points on Saturday, the fifth-year senior eclipsed the 1500-point mark, making him just the ninth Wildcat to finish his collegiate career with at least 1500 points and 300 assists. Booth was on the court for both of the ‘Cats’ National Championship runs, putting on a performance no Villanova fan will soon forget with his 20-point effort in the 2016 title game against North Carolina.
He won three Big East regular season titles, and three Big East Tournament trophies. Yet, what was perhaps even more impressive than all the accolades was Booth’s evolution during his time on the Main Line. A mere role player during his first two seasons, Booth became a starter on the 2017-2018 championship team. Then, following the mass exodus of Wildcats to the NBA, this year’s team asked Booth to do even more — a request he obliged by leading the team in both scoring (18.6 PPG) and assists (3.8 APG).
And then there is a Paschall. After transferring from Fordham following his freshman season, Paschall appeared poised to help the Wildcats. However, few, if any, could envision just how impactful a player he would be. In just three years on the court for the ‘Cats, Paschall accumulated over 1000 points and countless highlight-reel dunks.
He notched two regular season Big East championships and Big East Tournament titles in all three years he suited up in the blue and white. Although he was forced to redshirt during the 2016 championship season, Paschall made his presence felt amidst the 2018 title run, earning NCAA Final Four All-Tournament Team honors, in large part because of his near perfect performance in the national semifinals against Kansas. In that game, Paschall shot 10-11 from the field and finished with 24 points to highlight what was a remarkable offensive display by the Wildcats. This season, Paschall became a true leader of the team, not just in the scoring column (averaging 16.5 PPG) but also by teaching the underclassmen what it meant to play basketball the Villanova way.
So while the ending was nowhere near storybook for Booth and Paschall, their careers are certainly tales worth telling. They played with passion, they played to win and they for each other. They were, as Jay Wright so eloquently put it, “the consummate Villanova basketball players”.