Men’s Basketball: ‘Nova falls short at Old Spice Classic



Kyle Scudilla

Was it a foul or a flop?

That’s the question much of ‘Nova Nation is asking in regard to a call made with less than a second remaining in Sunday’s Old Spice Classic championship game between Villanova (4-1) and North Carolina State (4-1) that gave the Wolf Pack a 69-68 win and the tournament title.

With just two seconds remaining, Dante Cunningham tipped home a missed layup by Corey Stokes to give Villanova a 68-67 lead. On the ensuing possession, NC State’s Gavin Grant caught the inbounds pass and was met by Cunningham, who appeared to make contact with Grant’s arm. After the contact, Grant fired an off-balance 3-point attempt as Cunningham was whistled for a foul deemed to be committed while Grant was in the act of shooting. The NC State forward missed his first free throw attempt, but sunk his next two with just four-tenths of a second remaining on the clock to give the Wolf Pack a one-point victory.

“This is why you play in these tournaments and get this experience,” Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright said. “I wish we didn’t have to learn this way, but we do.”

Villanova reached the tournament’s championship game after knocking off the University of Central Florida on Thanksgiving and George Mason the following night.

The loss to NC State partially overshadowed the coming-out party of highly touted freshman Corey Fisher, who had a terrific tourney after getting over his early season bout of knee tendonitis. The guard ran the offense with precision passing and highlight-reel drives to the hoop. Fisher averaged 15.3 points per game while committing just one turnover in the tournament’s three games. The point guard saved his best game for last, scoring 21 points on 9-for-16 shooting from the field against NC State.

Fisher began the tournament by scoring 18 points and hitting four 3-pointers in Villanova’s 76-68 win over UCF. Scottie Reynolds led the ‘Cats with 19 points thanks to a 7-for-8 performance at the free-throw line. Reynolds and his backcourt mates Fisher and Reggie Redding hit crucial free throws in the final two minutes to hold off UCF, who trailed by 10 in the second half but rallied to make it close in the closing minutes. Redding scored a career-high 14 points for the Wildcats, who shot 52 percent from the field in the second half after hitting just 36 percent in the first half. UCF guard Mike O’Donnell led UCF with a game-high 24 points.

“We are a little unorganized and a little sloppy,” Wright said following the win. “UCF was a very organized, experienced team, and I think they showed basketball intelligence a little more than us.”

Villanova seemed destined to face Kansas State and their impressive freshman Michael Beasley. Beasley’s Wildcats couldn’t get past famed giant-killer George Mason, who showed a bit of its ’05 NCAA tournament form in pulling off the upset and setting up a date with Villanova the following evening. The experienced Patriots got off to a fast start, leading by as much as eight in the first half. The Wildcats called upon the services of Malcolm Grant, the team’s “microwave,” as deemed by Wright, to create a spark to get ‘Nova back in the game. The freshman made the most of the opportunity, burying all three of his 3-point attempts in the closing minutes to completed a fast turnaround and give the ‘Cats four-point lead at the break.

“Sometimes when you are a young team, your defense suffers when you don’t make shots,” Wright said. “I thought that happened to us in the first half. But Malkie [Grant] came into the game and gave us energy. He made a few shots and got us going.”

Reynolds, who was held to just four points in the first half, burst out for 17 in the second half to get ‘Nova’s lead as high as 14 points. George Mason, displaying its veteran grit, did not go away quietly, trimming the lead to six before two Cunningham layups and big free throws by Grant helped to close the door on the upset attempt. George Mason guard Folarin Campbell hit all 11 of his free throws for his game-high 25 points.

The win propelled ‘Nova to the final, where they met an unsatisfying fate but came away with encouraging performances from its young roster. Center Casiem Drummond grabbed 17 rebounds in the losing effort. The sophomore has provided a big-time inside presence for the ‘Cats so far and averaged eight points and 10.7 boards per contest in the Old Spice Classic. One of the frontcourt’s more familiar faces, Cunningham, turned in a great performance with a season-high 16 points while chipping in eight boards.

While the inside place was solid, Villanova struggled mightily from the perimeter against the Wolf Pack, making just two of its 12 attempts from beyond the arc. An injury to Shane Clark only made matters worse when he sustained a strained quadricep in the first half and missed the remainder of the game.

The Wildcats will return to the court on Saturday night at the Pavilion when they battle UPenn at 7 p.m. in the first of Villanova’s Big 5 games this season.