Following a road loss to Seton Hall over the weekend, the Wildcats began their Big East Tournament title defense against the Providence Friars. Although Providence played Villanova close for a majority of the game, ‘Nova stretched out their lead and came away with a victory, 73-62. Although the Wildcats only shot 37% from the field compared to the Friars’ 41%, they were able to compensate on defense where they made 11 steals and forced the Friars into 19 total turnovers.
“It wasn’t pretty, but you’ve got to be willing to play ugly and win some of these games,” head coach Jay Wright said after the game. “I’m proud of these guys that they did that.”
After trading misses with the Friars for the first two minutes of play, the Wildcats got on the board first at the 17:54 mark with a dunk from senior guard Phil Booth off a steal and assist from sophomore guard Collin Gillespie. The Friars hit back quickly, however, going on a 9-0 run in under two minutes led by a dunk and a layup from sophomore center Nate Watson, who led the Friars with 15 points. Wildcats sophomore forward Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree hit back with two dunks of his own before Gillespie tied the game at 9-9 with a second chance triple just before the under-12:00 timeout.
Out of the media timeout, the Wildcats’ veterans took over to establish a lead for their team. On the first possession out of the break, senior forward Eric Paschall, who led the Wildcats in scoring with 19 points, converted a three-point play off a layup. Booth followed that up the next time down the floor with a transition three off a steal from sophomore forward Jermaine Samuels to tie the game again at 15. After the Friars responded with a triple from freshman guard A.J. Reeves and a Watson three-point play, it was Booth again who retook the lead for the Wildcats with a deep three from the top of the key.
The Friars took a lead briefly with 3:51 remaining in the half at 23-22 on a jumper from junior guard Alpha Diallo, but the Wildcats again hit back quickly through a Gillespie deep ball. This sparked a 9-1 run for the Wildcats to end the half, with a corner three from freshman forward Cole Swider and a three-point play from Booth off a tip-in following Gillespie’s triple. Booth’s triple with 1:06 remaining ended the run as the ‘Cats went into the locker room leading, 31-24.
Out of the half, the Friars were the much faster of the two teams to get off the blocks, opening the half on a 6-1 run to make the 32-30, forcing a timeout from coach Wright at the 17:51 mark. A few of deuces from Diallo, Reeves, and Watson made up the run for the Friars. Out of the timeout the Wildcats began to surge once again with 6 points from Paschall and 2 from Cosby-Roundtree, but Providence refused to go away and tied the game on an and-one from Diallo.
The Wildcats were quick to respond to the Friars’ run, following Diallo’s three-point play that tied the game with a deep ball from Gillespie and two free throws from Cosby-Roundtree, making the score 49-44 with 8:17 remaining. Although Diallo responded with another layup, this was in the second half where the Wildcats began to extend their lead for the final time, and to double-digits for the first time in the game. With points from Paschall, Gillespie, Swider, and Samuels, the Wildcats extended their lead to 13, at its greatest, and secured the victory, leaving the last few minutes to take care of their lead and secure the double-digit win.
Watson, Jackson, and Diallo carried the scoring load for Providence with 15, 14, and 14, respectively. On the winning side, Paschall, Gillespie, and Booth were the scoring leaders for the ‘Cats with 20, 19, and 13. Cosby-Roundtree provided critical minutes off the bench with 8 points and 10 boards to help fuel second chances for ‘Nova.
The Wildcats will take on Xavier in their semifinal matchup tomorrow on at 6:30 p.m.