Big East Tournament Notebook: First Round – Villanova 75, DePaul 67



Kyle Scudilla

NEW YORK – A record setting performance by freshman Scottie Reynolds and solid play by senior big-man Curtis Sumpter helped the Villanova Wildcats (22-9, 10-7 Big East) earn a 75-67 win over the DePaul Blue Demons (18-13, 9-8) in the first round of the 2007 Big East Tournament held at Madison Square Garden. With the win, the ninth-seeded ‘Cats advanced to play the first-seeded Georgetown Hoyas tomorrow at noon.

Thanks to a strong first half by Sumpter, Villanova jumped out to a 28-26 lead at halftime. The ‘Cats’ 8-0 to begin the game seemed set the tone for the remainder of the contest, in which DePaul never led. The Blue Demons did, however, trim the lead to two points at the half.

Villanova began the second half as strongly as the first, going on an 11-2 run to begin the second half putting them up by as much as 11 points in half. Draelon Burns, Sammy Mejia and Wilson Chandler, all of whom finished in double-figures for DePaul, carried the Blue Demons down the stretch, cutting the deficit to as little as three points, but a combination of defensive stops and misses on open looks doomed their chance for a rally.

Villanova player performance breakdown

Scottie Reynolds

Reynolds may not have had his best shooting game of his first season at Villanova on Wednesday afternoon, but four 3 pointers and a 13-for-16 performance from the line helped the Wildcats’ sensational freshman tie Villanova’s school record for most points in a single Big East Tournament game with 29. Though Scottie shot just 32 percent from the field (6-for-19), his increased aggressiveness in the second half led to plenty of free throw opportunities and put a good deal of pressure on the Blue Demons’ interior defense. Reynolds stepped up in his first postseason game at Villanova despite the absence of senior leader Mike Nardi in the backcourt.

Curtis Sumpter

Curtis stole the show early, going 5-for-11 from the field in the first half for a game-high 13 points. Though Sumpter cooled off from the field later in the game, two big 3 pointers to start the second half propelled Villanova to an 11-2 run. Sumpter played nearly the entire game (37 minutes) while chipping in with five rebounds and going a perfect 8-for-8 from the charity stripe to finish with 25 points. The fifth-year senior continued to look sharp and athletic on the court despite the shin and hamstring injuries that plagued him for much of the season. The fact that he has been practicing with the team the last few weeks, something the previously-mentioned injuries did not allow him to do for a good portion of the season, single-handedly makes the Villanova offense multi-dimensional and much harder to guard.

Dante Cunningham

The sophomore forward stepped up in a big way down the stretch, doing most of his damage from the free throw line. Despite hitting just one field goal all game, Dante went 10-for-12 from the free-throw line to finish as the third Wildcat in double-figures, tallying 12 points. Many of Cunningham’s free throws came within the final two minutes and helped to fight off DePaul’s last gasp for a rally. Dante also grabbed a game-high nine rebounds and was Villanova’s strongest presence in the paint throughout the contest.

Reggie Redding

Starting in place of the injured Mike Nardi, Redding did more than enough to complement Reynolds in Villanova’s all-freshman backcourt. Redding made a lot of tough hustle plays on loose balls and used that energy to lift the rest of his game. The guard from Philadelphia scored nine points, the highlight of which was a tough attempt from the left baseline as he was leaning out of bounds with just over two minutes remaining in the game. He also grabbed a couple of rebounds down the stretch that helped quell the second-chance opportunities DePaul’s big men were hoping to create.

Will Sheridan

Sheridan didn’t attempt a shot from the field and finished scoreless, but grabbed six rebounds and recorded one steal in 31 minutes of action. He competed in the paint, and helped give the Wildcats a couple of second-chance opportunities.

Shane Clark

Clark was the only bench player with significant minutes (21) for Villanova. Shane didn’t score, but finished with two rebounds, one block and one steal. He played with a wrap on his left knee, but Coach Wright did not mention Clark’s condition during the post game press conference. He should be good to go tomorrow against Georgetown.

Mike Nardi

Nardi left Saturday’s regular season finale against Syracuse with back spasms and his availability was questionable for today’s contest. The senior guard came off the bench with a brace on his left calf and played just two minutes, mostly because the coaching staff wanted to get him in there to motivate the team using his typical on-court leadership tactics. Nardi seems likely to see an increased role against Georgetown barring further swelling to a leg injury he is battling.

Bilal Benn

With Coach Wright relying heavily on Reggie Redding to play the two-guard position, Benn did not see much action despite Nardi’s injury. Benn appeared briefly at the end of each half. He recorded no statistics in just one minute of play.

The five keys to the game

1. Villanova’s trademark sharp free-throw shooting was quite evident again, as the ‘Cats finished 33-for-38 (87 percent) as a team from the charity stripe.

2. DePaul also shot well from the line, finishing at 84 percent, but only had half the attempts that Villanova did.

3. The Blue Demons shot just 19 percent (3-of-16) from downtown in the second half.

4. Only four Wildcats (Reynolds, Sumpter, Cunningham and Redding) scored. Villanova finished with no bench points.

5. Sammy Mejia (20 points), Draelon Burns (18) and Wilson Chandler (18) finished with 56 of the Blue Demons’ 67 points.

Historical facts and figures

Reynolds’ 29 points tied Kerry Kittles’ Villanova school record set in the 1995 Big East Tournament. The former Wildcat guard scored 29 points in a game against Providence on March 11, 1995.

DePaul lost in what was their first-ever Big East Tournament game. The Blue Demons were one of five Conference USA teams to transfer to the Big East for the 2005-2006 season and failed to qualify for last year’s tourney.

The win marked Villanova’s first against one of the former Conference USA programs in the Big East Tournament.

The Wildcats upped their record to 29-25 all-time in the Big East Tournament.

Villanova will get a shot at history on Thursday when it takes on the Hoyas. The Wildcats have lost their previous three games against Georgetown in conference tournament play.

Post-game press conference wrap-up

Coach Wright called the game a “classic Big East battle,” and said that Villanova’s earlier loss to the Blue Demons taught the ‘Cats a lot about themselves and led to an increased level of toughness for the remainder of the season. He noted that he has seen improvement in both teams since that earlier matchup, and is especially happy with Villanova’s better chemistry in the latter portion of the season.

Wright gave a brief injury report, saying the team missed Nardi’s knowledge and leadership on the court. He acknowledged that the coaching staff was tempted to insert him into the lineup just to act as “another coach on the floor” and be a leader as he has throughout this season. Wright said that Nardi’s health should improve overnight, and if the swelling around the calf and shin area of his left leg continues to go down, he could see a much bigger role tomorrow against Georgetown. Though Reggie Redding hobbled off the floor late in the second half, he played following the injury and should be fine for tomorrow.

Curtis Sumpter was all smiles when asked about how he felt this year as opposed to last year. He is very happy to be able to help his team win this year instead of just watching his teammates battle without him. He was credited by Coach Wright as being “all business” before the team left its hotel to come to the arena for the game.

Scottie Reynolds noted that less sloppiness and more aggressiveness on his part led to more good drives to the hoop and fewer mistakes. He credited Dante Cunningham for making big plays down the stretch. Reynolds most notably complimented Redding, saying he was “proud to be his roommate” in reference to the aggressive and tough plays his fellow freshman made in his starting role.

What the win means for Villanova

Depending on who one asks, Villanova’s potential seeding for the NCAA Tournament is questionable, ranging anywhere from six to nine in most bracket forecasts. The most significant part of the win for the ‘Cats is that it gives them a shot at a rubber-match with one of their biggest rivals, Georgetown. Knocking off the Big East’s regular season champions and advancing to the semifinals could advance Villanova to being more in the range of a six or seven seed during the announcements on Selection Sunday.

What the loss means for DePaul

Despite finishing with a winning record in the Big East and as the conference tournament’s eighth seed, the Blue Demons look NIT-bound. Most analysts estimated that DePaul needed to defeat Villanova and Georgetown in succession, and probably receive some help elsewhere, in order to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.