‘Cats beat Friars for fourth straight win



Nathan McGann

No. 17 Wildcats weathered a second-half storm and escaped the Dunkin’ Donuts Center with a 94-91 victory over an impressive Providence Friar squad. Junior guard Scottie Reynolds had 31 points and proved that he is still the go-to player for this team when it matters most.

Reynolds, who had been struggling with his shooting since his 40-point performance against Seton Hall, opened the game with a quick 3-pointer to get the Wildcats rolling. The shots kept falling early for Reynolds who made three of his first four to extend the Villanova lead to 12-2.

A staple for this year’s Villanova squad has been its stifling defense, especially on the perimeter. Providence made only one of its first eight shots from the field before guard Brian McKenzie knocked down a jumper from beyond the arc. The Wildcats were very disruptive, forcing several Friars’ turnovers that led to Wildcat points in transition.

Providence, who entered the game unranked despite sitting fifth in the Big East standings, quickly responded with five points from guard Jeff Xavier. Xavier brought the Friars to within four before Corey Stokes brought the ball up the court and connected on a deep 3-point shot to put Villanova back up by seven.

The Friars refused to go away in the first half, especially after Reynolds went to the bench. Sharaud Curry’ two 3-pointers and another from McKenzie capped off a 10-0 Friars’ run to tie the game at 20 points apiece.

The back-and-forth tempo continued as Villanova went on an 8-0 run of its own with senior guard/forward Dwayne Anderson hitting back-to-back 3-pointers from the corner.

After Jonathan Kale scored to get the Friars within six, the Wildcats took over the game on both ends of the court. Reynolds and Anderson, who finished with 14 and 11 points, respectively, in the first half, made shots from beyond the arc. Along with some productive minutes from Corey Fisher off the bench, Villanova closed the half with an impressive 15-point lead.

One of the biggest storylines of the half was Villanova’s effective matchup-zone defense. The Providence shooters, who provide some matchup problems for the Villanova defenders, went cold with about five minutes remaining in the period, hitting only two shots from the floor in that span, the last of which came on a put-back as time expired. The physical and athletic Villanova defense forced double-digit first-half turnovers.

Villanova was equally as effective on offense, despite a quiet seven-point first half performance from Cunningham, who entered the game leading the team in both points and rebounds. The Wildcats shot 48.6 percent from the floor and made 8-15 from the 3-point arc.

The second half would prove to be far more exciting.

Fisher picked up his fourth foul after intentionally grabbing on a Providence breakaway. Villanova had a 20-point lead when the sophomore committed the infraction and was forced to take a seat for much of the remainder of the game.With Fisher out of the game, Stokes entered the game and struggled to find his shooting stroke. He missed all six of his shots in the second half.

After McKenzie fouled out with 11 minutes remaining in the game, Providence put together an impressive run that was fueled by Villanova fouls and an improved attack from deep. Xavier made back-to-back 3s, Kale added a two points and the Friars cut into the Villanova lead. They were within 10 with just under nine minutes to go at 69-59.

Things were made even worse for Head Coach Jay Wright when Fisher went back into the game for Stokes, who earned his third foul and quickly picked up his fifth personal, ending his night early. With momentum starting to turn in favor of the Friars and the Villanova guards finding it difficult to stay on the court, Reynolds hit a jumper to extend the lead to 13 and quiet the crowd.

Providence senior guard Weyinmi Efejuku, who was held in check for much of the first half with only two points, really came alive in the second half. He put up eight points at the five-minute mark to cut the Villanova lead to single digits for the first time since early in the first half. Efejuku had 18 second-half points before coming out of the game during a Friar comeback. He would finish with 23 for the game.

Villanova’s lead was still at seven as the clock hit two minutes, but the Friars continued to put pressure on Villanova, forcing consecutive turnovers by the Wildcats. Fortunately for Villanova, Providence, who had been hot from the floor late in the second half, started to struggle to convert the defensive stops into points on the other end of the floor.

The biggest play of the night came with only 40 seconds remaining and the Friars driving to the rim after another Wildcat turnover. Redding stepped into the post and had an incredible block that led to an easy Reynolds layup. Providence had a chance to make the game a one possession affair before the Redding rejection. The Reynolds basket, coupled with an Anderson dunk, brought the lead back up to seven.

Needing only to avoid quick baskets and knock down free throws, the Wildcats watched as Curry and Efejuku nailed three consecutive 3-pointers in a span of 20 seconds to cut the lead to only one. Reynolds was clutch at the line, knocking down both free throw attempts. The lead was three at 94-91 with a single second left on the clock. The last second heave was stolen by Clark to close out a near-shocker for the Wildcats.