Villanova extended their stay in Indianapolis with an 84-61 victory over the 13-seeded North Texas in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Following their 10-point win over Winthrop in the opening game, the Wildcats faced a difficult proposition in the form of a North Texas team hot off an upset over Purdue in the first round. While still reeling from the loss of senior guard Collin Gillespie, Villanova logged their best performance since their leader’s injury, setting up a Sweet 16 matchup with Baylor next weekend.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl led Villanova with 18 points, six rebounds, and six assists. Senior Jermaine Samuels and sophomore Justin Moore added 15 points each.
Javion Hamlet topped all Mean Green scorers with 25 points to go with four assists and six rebounds.
North Texas picked up right where they left off from the first round early on, jumping to a 21-13 lead to start the first half. Three conversions from beyond the arc in four possessions erased that lead, opening an advantage for Villanova that would never be reversed.
What separated the Wildcats in the first half and throughout the entire game was a flaming hot performance from deep. The ‘Cats sunk 15 of their 30 attempts from deep, the second-highest percentage in any game this season. The hot hand spread throughout the team, as eight different players connected from deep at some point in the game. Each successive shot helped build an unmatchable energy that inundated the hapless 13-seed.
Chris Arcidiacono, although risk-averse, hit two threes in the first half for his first made field goals of the season. Jay Wright has relied on the younger Arcidiacono as a tireless defender and secure ball-handler, but his two threes electrified the team. Eric Dixon attempted his first three-pointer since February 23 and converted in the flow of the offense.
Despite Villanova’s nine three-pointers in the first half, North Texas cut the lead to three with over six minutes left in the opening period. The Wildcats responded with a 19-4 run to enter halftime with a 20-point lead.
The ‘Cats kept their foot on the pedal during the second half, confirming the victory with six additional three-pointers as North Texas struggled to get back into the game. Villanova was ruthlessly efficient on offense. With only six turnovers in the game, the ‘Cats delivered a performance worthy of the 23-point domination.
The Wildcats received an injection of scoring from the bench which helped suppress any hope the Mean Green had of fighting back into the game. Sophomore Bryan Antoine played 22 minutes, picking up six points and two steals in an encouraging performance. Plagued by sporadic injuries throughout his Villanova career, Antoine has seen his playing time slowly build with his confidence on the court. Forward Cole Swider hit three of his four attempts from beyond the three-point line as Wright entrusted him with the highest number of minutes since mid-February.
Looking ahead to the Wildcats' next opponent, Baylor poses the toughest challenge Villanova will face this season. The Bears boast the talent and coach to threaten any team in the tournament. The trio of Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell, and MaCio Teague have shredded teams throughout the season on either end of the court. Villanova will have to find a way to slow the fourth highest-scoring team in the country while also attempting to take down the second-best scoring defense in the Big 12.
However, Scott Drew and his Baylor Bears will be reviewing the most recent Villanova game fearful of a similar performance against them. If the Wildcats can take care of the ball while rediscovering the spark that lit the court ablaze against North Texas, Villanova can beat anyone in the tournament.
The Wildcats face Sweet 16-opponent Baylor next Saturday, March 27 at 5:15.