Wildcats find no answer for Longhorns

David Cassilo

After not leaving the Philadelphia area for their first eight games of the season, the Villanova Wildcats traveled to New York City on Tuesday for their first real test of the year as they squared off against the Texas Longhorns in the second game of the Jimmy V Classic. In what would prove to be an ugly and sloppy game for both squads, the Wildcats were handed their first loss of the season as they fell to the Longhorns, 67-58.

The opening moments of the first half set the tone for the entire game as both teams had trouble scoring and holding onto the basketball. The Wildcats, who entered the contest averaging just 12.3 turnovers per game, gave away the ball on their first three possessions.

The ‘Cats fell behind early, as they trailed 4-0 in the game’s opening stages. The poor start forced Head Coach Jay Wright to turn to his bench early, as Shane Clark and Reggie Reading saw immediate action. Senior Dante Cunningham got the scoring going as he sunk a jumper from just inside the 3-point arc. The basket started a 12-1 run that put Villanova in control of the game. During this run, Texas went over four minutes without registering a field goal.

However, the turnovers eventually caught up with the Wildcats in the first half and allowed Texas to go on a run of their own. Texas responded to Villanova’s run with a 10-0 run of its own to give the Longhorns a 15-12 lead. A 3-pointer during the run by senior guard A.J. Abrams gave the Longhorns the lead that they never again would relinquish.

Cunningham and sophomore Corey Stokes were the only reasons Villanova stayed in the game during the first half. The duo combined for the Wildcats’ first 19 points of the night. Junior Scottie Reynolds was the only other Wildcat to score during the first half.

With only three points in the final 4:47 of the half, Villanova was unable to regain the lead before halftime and trailed 32-26. Both teams committed a high number of turnovers, with Villanova tallying 11 while Texas had eight. Cunningham led the Wildcats with 12 points and seven rebounds at the half, while Abrams paced the Longhorns with eight points. Villanova stayed in the game despite its lack of scoring by out-rebounding Texas 17-11.

The second half started the way the first half ended, as both teams turned the ball over at an alarming rate. Villanova kept the score close, mainly because of the offensive and defensive efforts by Cunningham. With 14:40 remaining in the second half, junior Reggie Redding became the first player other than Cunningham, Stokes and Redding to score when he hit a 3-point shot to cut the lead to 39-34.

The teams traded baskets with several turnovers mixed in over the next few minutes. It was not until the next-to-last TV timeout that Texas began to take control of the game. Abrams began to get hot, converting a 3-point play after a Redding foul with 7:39 remaining. The senior continued to dominate offensively as he scored 13 points over the last eight minutes.

Despite the performance by Abrams, Villanova still found themselves with a shot late in the game, but back-to-back turnovers while down nine with three minutes left doomed the Wildcats. A traveling turnover by Redding with just over a minute sealed the deal as Villanova was unable to mount a come back.

Despite being on the losing end for the first time this season, Cunningham once again performed at a high level. He finished the night with an impressive 23 points and 14 rebounds. Stokes chipped in 11 points of his own, while Reynolds finished the night with 10.

Abrams was the difference maker for the Longhorns, totaling 26 points on 8-of-18 shooting. Junior Damion James was the only other Texas player in double figures, as he finished with 16 points and six rebounds.

The Longhorns overcame a horrendous night at the foul line, making just 11 of 24 shots.

Villanova turned the ball over 19 times on the evening. Aside from the costly turnovers, the Wildcats were hindered by their poor shooting. They shot 38.8 percent from the field, including 4-of-17 from beyond the 3-point arc. They also struggled from the line, where they were just 16-for-25 in the game.

The Wildcats will have a quick turnaround, as they come home to face Big Five rival St. Joseph’s tonight at The Pavilion. The Hawks are 4-4 on the season and are coming off a 85-64 win at Towson on Tuesday. The rivals will tip off against each other at 8 p.m.