The fifth ranked Villanova Wildcats lost to another elite opponent on Sunday afternoon, losing 80-74 to sixth ranked Purdue in the final of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament. The loss, Villanova’s second of the season, mirrored their first, as the Wildcats’ six man rotation ran out of gas late and blew a double digit lead in the final ten minutes of the game.
“I thought we played well,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “But when you play in a game like that, there's a lot of little plays here and there down the stretch, foul shot here, defensive possession there, turnover here, all those little things cost you, and I thought they made less mistakes and executed what they do more consistently for the 40 minutes.”
Junior guard Justin Moore led the Wildcats with 19 points in the game, while redshirt senior guard Caleb Daniels added 17 off the bench for the ‘Cats. The Wildcats led 57-46 with less than ten minutes remaining in the second half, but a late 23-5 run clinched the game for the Boilermakers.
The undersized Wildcats, who did not play anyone over 6’8”, simply had no answer for Purdue’s size. 6’10” forwards Caleb Furst and Trevion Williams gave the Wildcats fits inside, but the story of the game was the play of 7’4” center Zach Edey, who led all scorers with 21 points in just 20 minutes on the floor.
“They're different in that, Edey’s size, it sounds simple to say, but his length and his ability to shoot and then get a rebound... right when it comes off the rim is incredible,” Wright said. “And he gets himself buried in the paint, he does a great job of it.”
“Williams is kind of different,” Wright said. “He can get it off the block and he's so skilled that, he's got great footwork, great touch, uses the backboard, he's an old school, low post player that passes well out of there, really intelligent. So they've got two weapons there that are really difficult to deal with.”
Edey made his presence known early, with six of the first eight points for the Boilermakers. Tied at 13 early in the first half, Purdue went on an 8-0 run behind threes from senior guard Sasha Stefanovic and sophomore guard Jaden Ivey, but the Wildcats went on an 8-0 run of their own with threes from Moore and graduate guard Collin Gillespie to tie the game again.
Purdue scored five straight points from there to take the lead again, but Daniels hit a three to end the half with a 33-31 lead for the Wildcats. Villanova committed zero turnovers in the first half and made seven threes, staying in the game despite being outrebounded 21-13.
The Wildcats came out firing to start the second half. On the first possession, redshirt sophomore forward Eric Dixon dragged Edey into space and made him chase the ball, guarding multiple Wildcats before eventually fouling Dixon. Moore and Daniels made three pointers, and when graduate forward Jermaine Samuels found Daniels for another three to extend the Wildcat lead to 57-46, it looked as if Villanova would run away with it.
However, the Boilermakers did not go quietly, but more aptly, the Wildcats ran out of steam. Wright used just seven players all game, only six of whom played significant minutes.
“These guys, they don't give in, like if you ask Justin [Moore] or Caleb [Daniels], they'll say they're not tired,” Wright said. “They're kind of like golden retrievers. They'll just keep going. They're not going to stop, and they're not going to tell you they’re tired. We got to do a better job of that. I’ve got to do a better job with that.”
After Daniels extended the lead to eleven, Edey cut the lead to single digits with a dunk. Moore missed a three, and Ivey found junior guard Isaiah Thompson wide open at the top of the key to come within six. Gillespie hit a three point jumper to extend the lead again, but when Thompson hit another three, the Boilermakers were back in the game.
With five minutes remaining, Purdue took the lead for the first time on a layup from Furst. Ivey made two free throws and Thompson hit yet another three, and the 7-0 run from the Boilermakers sealed the game and the Tournament championship. The 7-0 run was part of a larger 23-5 run that flipped the game on its head.
Missed free throws were key for the normally reliable Wildcats, as Villanova was nine of 17 from the line. The Wildcats committed just four turnovers in the game, yet the eight missed free throws and a 38-26 deficit in rebounds was too much to overcome.
“No, I don't think we tired out,” Moore said. “I think, we maybe just didn’t do the little things down the stretch that they were able to do, and [they] capitalized off our mistakes. I think down the stretch, the rebounding, the turnovers here, like coach said, it's the little things that we got to get back to work and correct.”
However, the team was clearly tired, and as Purdue utilized ten different players on their roster, especially in cycling between Edey and Williams, the Wildcats could not keep up.
“Their depth is a great advantage for them,” Wright said. “And they've got experienced depth. So our depth is going to be inexperienced, we’ve just got to get them better at what we do… We'll get them there.”
Wright defended his decision not to utilize a deeper bench, just as he had after the loss at UCLA.
“We got to get our young guys going,” Wright said. “[We] probably don't have a ten point lead playing those young guys right now. Probably, if we kept our guys fresh, they might not make the mistakes they make at the end. So it's just where we are as a team right now. We've got a lot of growth ahead of us.”
After a grueling two days at the Mohegan Sun where the Wildcats took on two ranked teams, Villanova gets a week to recover. The Wildcats are back in action on Sunday, as they begin their Big 5 campaign against La Salle at the Palestra.