Wildcats Survive OT Thriller vs. DePaul

The Wildcats hosted DePaul on last night at the Finneran Pavilion, where they defeated their Big East foe from Chicago in overtime, 79-75. The overtime thriller included a shocking comeback in the second half and resilience to finish the game strong. The Wildcats advance to 13-3 overall on the season, and 4-1 in Big East conference play.

The ‘Cats knew they were in for a tough competition right out of the gate. Within the first four minutes, DePaul led 8-5 after a nice fake and turnaround floater from Charlie Moore. The Blue Demons then expanded its lead to 21-8 with 11 minutes remaining in the half.

After a timeout from Head Coach Jay Wright, the team seemed energized. Cole Swider knocked down a three-pointer to cut the lead to 10. A couple possessions later, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl was fouled and made one of his two free throws. The Wildcats showed continuous defensive pressure. On the offensive end, the team continued its scoring run after an offensive rebound and layup from Jermaine Samuels Jr. After a failed alley-oop attempt, DePaul called a timeout to halt the energy from the team and the arena.

The Blue Demons were able to control the ‘Cats and had maintained a commanding 10- point lead with just under 3:30 remaining in the half. After finding themselves down 28-21, the ‘Cats concluded the half on a 9-0 run to take a slight 30-28 lead into the locker room for halftime.

Both teams went back and forth to begin the second half. Villanova held the lead, but the score stayed very close. With 9:32 remaining in the contest, the Wildcats led 50-45. Swider and Robinson-Earl each made a layup which extended the lead. After a brief timeout from the Demons, forward Paul Reed threw down two dunks to cut the lead to five once again. Bey, who scored a career-high 33 points the previous game, extended the lead after a baseline dunk and three-pointer to give the Wildcats a 10-point advantage.

With just over three minutes left in the contest, DePaul’s Moore hit a three to cut the lead to seven, but that was countered on the next possession with a three-ball from Villanova guard Justin Moore to put it back up to ten. Later on, it looked like the game had been sealed when Robinson-Earl made a free throw to extend the lead to 11 with 2:14 to go, but the Demons weren’t finished yet.

Moore, a 5’11” guard, dribbled down the court and was mismatched with 6’9” Robinson-Earl. He took advantage of the matchup, executing an ankle-breaking crossover that sent Robinson-Earl to the ground, as he rattled in the three making it 66-58. Villanova turned the ball over on the next possession, as Butz made a layup to cut the deficit to six. On the offensive end, Bey had the ball pick-pocketed from behind by Reed, who slammed it on the other end, making it 66-62 with just over a minute remaining.

Gillespie was fouled while driving into the lane on the following possession, as he made one of his two attempts to put the ‘Cats up 67-62. But the Demons still weren’t finished. Coleman-Lands pump-faked a three, then nailed it from downtown to cut the lead to two with just 31 seconds remaining. Robinson-Earl then turned over the ball on the offensive end, giving the Demons a chance to make it even. After a timeout, Moore snuck in the paint for a layup, tying the game at 67. With eight seconds to go, the ‘Cats passed the ball around on the offensive end freeing up Bey for a wide-open three. Bey’s last-second shot went over the rim and hit the backboard as the buzzer sounded.

As overtime began, each team exchanged punches. For every basket the Wildcats made, the Demons fired right back. Villanova led 75-72 with 1:50 left, but after a series of turnovers and missed opportunities from both teams, Moore made two free throws to make it 75-74 with just six seconds left. The Demons unsuccessfully attempted to trap Gillespie on the inbound, then intentionally fouled, taking three seconds off the clock.

Gillespie made each of his two free throws, as DePaul inbounded the ball to Moore who was controversially fouled at half-court. He made the first attempt, then intentionally missed the second, but the ball was rebounded by Samuels who was fouled with 0.6 seconds left. Samuels made both free throws to make it 79-75, putting the game out of reach for the Demons.

“I’m proud of them. That’s a tough thing to do,” Wright said. “That’s what a season is. You go through experiences like that and you learn how to trust each other in tough situations.”

“It just kind of shows what we’re made of,” Robinson-Earl said. “Just going out there and playing a full forty minutes even though it goes into overtime and it’s five more minutes, we still have to grind until the final buzzer sounds. We try to simulate that every day in practice.”

After a couple of days off, the Wildcats will be back in action in their home away from home at the Wells Fargo Center against UConn. Tipoff is set for noon.