Moore, Gillespie Lead Villanova to Comeback 79-64 Win At DePaul

Junior guard Justin Moore shoots over DePaul's Javon Freeman-Liberty.

DePaul hadn’t beaten Villanova since Jan. 3, 2008, when Justin Moore was seven years old.

Down 37-32 to the Blue Demons at halftime, Moore wasn’t about to let that winning streak end. The junior guard scored 17 of his 22 points in the second half, leading the Wildcats to a 79-64 victory in Chicago, their 21st consecutive win over DePaul.

“On this team, I think for the first time, he’s gotta be the guy that’s dominant for us to win,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said after the game. “I think he’s figuring it out. I think in a couple of our losses, Creighton, even Baylor, on this team, he’s gotta be the guy that dictates whether we win or lose.”

Senior guard Javon Freeman-Liberty led the Blue Demons with a game-high 34 points, scoring 22 in the first half to lead his team to a surprising halftime lead. However, Villanova’s defense tightened in the second half and the ‘Cats found an offensive rhythm, outscoring the Blue Demons by 20 in the period.

“Freeman-Liberty is incredible,” Wright said. “He was amazing, we really couldn’t stop him. He was physical as hell offensively, he’s getting to the rim, getting fouled, just taking it to us physically. He’s a real physical, athletic guard. He’s good.”

Graduate guard Collin Gillespie was the leading scorer for the Wildcats, scoring a season-high 28 points, joining Moore with 17 in the second half. Redshirt senior guard Caleb Daniels also scored in double digits in his return from COVID-19, adding 11 points off the bench.

Both teams struggled in the early going, combining to score just four points in the opening four minutes of the game. The Blue Demons scored five straight points to take a 7-2 lead, but Moore and Daniels responded with back to back threes to take a 12-11 lead. The teams traded the lead several times over the final minutes of the half, but DePaul closed the period on a 13-4 run to take a five point lead into halftime.

“First half, we were in trouble,” Wright said. “We didn’t come in and yell or anything, we know they’re good… If you’re not playing your best against any team in this league, you’re gonna get beat.”

The Wildcats came out of halftime firing. Moore was fouled attempting a three pointer on the first possession of the frame, and made all three free throws to cut the deficit to two, which he then erased with a jumper. Gillespie hit a three to take the lead, and although DePaul guard junior Philmon Gebrewhit made a jumper on the other end to put the Villanova lead at one, the Wildcats went on a 13-4 run to take the lead for good.

“Today, we adjusted better than we did before,” Gillespie said of the team’s halftime adjustment. “We just had to get back to playing Villanova basketball and make sure we were doing that for 40 minutes.”

Two free throws from DePaul’s Brandon Johnson cut the Villanova lead to 61-55 with just 6:21 to play, but Moore scored 11 points over the final minutes to protect the lead and put the game out of reach for the Blue Demons.

“He’s one of the smartest players we’ve ever had here,” Wright said. “Usually, when you get great players like that, they’re used to just being the man, they only know how to just get themselves shots. He’s the opposite. He’s our best defender, he’s our best rebounding guard, he makes the right pass, he’s unselfish… but he’s learning. This is probably the first time in his life where he’s gotta be the guy who carries the team with Collin (Gillespie). It’s not that he can’t do it, he’s never had to, and I think he’s starting to understand that.”

The Wildcats shot 52% from the field in the game, 41% from three, and made 20 of their 22 free throw attempts. DePaul shot just 35% as a team, 24% from deep, but nearly all of their offensive success came from Freeman-Liberty.

“On a few of those possessions, we blitzed Freeman-Liberty, got it out of his hands, and it kind of got him out of his rhythm,” Wright said of their second half defensive gameplan. “When a player like that’s got it going like that, it’s good, but other guys aren’t touching the ball… for like six, seven possessions, other guys had to make plays.”

The Wildcats improved to 11-4, 4-1 in Big East play, keeping pace with Providence atop the standings, while the Blue Demons fell to 9-5, 0-4 within the conference. Villanova next plays at 22nd ranked Xavier on Wednesday, looking to sweep the Musketeers in conference play.

“We know there’s more work to do,” Gillespie said. “We know we can learn a lot from this game, fix our mistakes, and try to get better for the next game, the next day. We’re really just having a growth mindset, looking to go forward, play Villanova basketball better than we did today, and we’ll see where we end up at the end.”