Villanova ended their season in heartbreaking fashion, losing their sixth game of the season to Providence by a score of 54-52. A David Duke tip-in with three seconds left sunk their Big East rivals despite a clean look at a game-winning three from Jeremiah Robinson-Earl.
The Wildcats waded into murky waters in the game, the team’s first since the devastating injury to senior Collin Gillespie. The injury bug bit again during the game, with sophomore Justin Moore logging only 12 minutes before a left ankle sprain forced him to leave the game. His status remains unclear, but he is scheduled to get a MRI Sunday, according to head coach Jay Wright.
Jermaine Samuels led the way with 21 points and eight rebounds. Sophomore Robinson-Earl added 11 points and 13 rebounds in the losing effort. Due to the injuries to Moore and Gillespie, Sophomore guards Bryan Antoine and Chris Arcidiacono logged more than 20 minutes, season highs for both.
Nate Watson and Duke led the way for Providence, each totaling 20 points for the Friars.
This was a game defined differently during each half. The opening 20 minutes of the game will haunt Jay Wright and his Wildcats when looking back on the game. Although an adjustment period was expected, Villanova could not find a balance without their senior leader in the game. The offense struggled early, scoring only two points in the first five minutes of the game. Providence pounced on the vulnerable Wildcats, extending an 11-2 lead early in the game.
The ‘Cats lost their touch from beyond the arc during the first half, hitting only two of 11 attempts from deep (18.2%). As Villanova toiled through early-game changes to their lineups, Providence rolled on to a 38-21 lead going into halftime, those 21 points a season-low for points scored during any half. The ‘Cats fell short with their post-defense. Watson from Providence gave Villanova’s forward rotation huge problems during the first half.
The Wildcats fought back into the game in the second half. The team dug into the Providence lead, opening an 11-0 run over the first three minutes. The two teams grappled during the middle of the half, the gap between the two floating around 10 points for much of the second period. Five straight points from Samuels returned a 50-49 lead to Villanova with just over two minutes left in the game, but the lead would not last. Duke scored the last five points for Providence to hand the Wildcats their fourth Big East loss on the season.
The loss will sting Wright and his team as they make plans for late March, but they will be encouraged by the team’s second-half performance. Contributions from players off the bench were crucial for the comeback, and this game will provide some clarity for Wright as he determines the rotation for the Big East tournament.
Villanova opens their postseason campaign on Thursday, March 11 at 12:00 against the winner of the game between the 8th and 9th seeded teams in the Big East.