Earlier tonight, the six seed in the South region Villanova Wildcats embarked on the start of their NCAA Tournament run with a game against the 11 ranked St. Mary’s Gaels. With both teams coming off of conference championship victories last weekend, this game was highly anticipated as many people around the country put ‘Nova on upset alert. Through a hard-fought battle, Villanova was able to survive and advance with a 61-57 victory.
The first half saw Villanova start out the game with an 8-2 lead, but St. Mary’s would not go down lightly as the Gaels went on an 11-3 run to take a lead of their own at 13-11. Gaels guard Jordan Ford was the man who kept St. Mary’s alive and well throughout the first half. Ford was tied for the scoring lead with forward Malik Fitts and guard Tanner Krebs with six points apiece. On the Villanova side, senior captain Phil Booth put up eight points in the half to lead the ‘Cats attack. Fellow captain Eric Paschall and sophomore Jermaine Samuels chipped in six apiece to keep Villanova close with St. Mary’s. As the teams went into the locker rooms for the end of the first half, St. Mary’s held a 30-28 lead over Villanova.
In the second half, Villanova came out with a lot of momentum by opening the first three and a half minutes with a 10-3 run with five points coming from Booth, a mid-range pull up jumpshot from Paschall, a triple from freshman Saddiq Bey, and a thunderous dunk from Samuels. From this point on, ‘Nova went wire to wire in the second half and never relinquished their lead for the rest of the game. Even when the Gaels would try to build up momentum for themselves with small runs and clutch threes, the Wildcats always had an answer in order to maintain their lead. In the final minute of the game with Villanova leading, 61-53, St. Mary’s made one last push with a long ball from Ford and a floater from Fitts, but it was to no avail as the ‘Cats escaped the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut with the first-round victory.
For the Gaels, Ford and Fitts contributed 13 points each for their squad. On the winning side, captains Booth and Paschall chipped in 20 and 14, respectively. Samuels also kept his double-digit points streak alive with a 12-point performance to go along with seven rebounds.
Villanova will get Friday off and then take on the winner of the Purdue-Old Dominion matchup on Saturday night.