‘Nova begins season with midnight win over Temple

Leslie Combs

The 12:01 a.m. tip-off time did little to hinder the Wildcats in the early hours of Nov. 21.

If anything, the starting time of the much anticipated Big 5 match-up between Temple and Villanova just added fuel to the red-hot scoring ‘Cats who burned the Owls 73-48 in the rowdy Liacouras Center this morning.

Despite its limited bench ‘Nova came out strong in the first half, with its youth leading the way. Freshman point guard Mike Nardi set the tone for the game, knocking in a nothing but net three on his first collegiate shot, and from that point on the shots just kept dropping.

A bottle tossed from the Villanova section in the first minutes of play threatened to disrupt the ‘Cats’ momentum, but head coach Jay Wright’s address to the crowd, asking the fans to “act with class like we always do and protect the players,” seemed to send the cheers in the right direction.

The direction that the shorthanded ‘Cats, due to injuries and suspensions went, was right to the basket. The baskets kept dropping from the interior and behind the arch, while the ‘Cats’ zone defense squelched the Owls’ attack and helped ‘Nova end the half up 32-22.

Immediately in the second Temple cut the lead to seven with an opening three by freshman David Salisbery, but sophomores Randy Foye and Allan Ray each replied with one of their own from behind the arch. Nardi then directed Foye’s fast break basket, followed by Nardi’s own two-pointer that capped the ‘Cats’ 10-0 run putting them up 42-25.

‘Nova just kept it coming, racking up 72.7 percent from the field in the second, while Temple fell to 25.6 percent.

“[W]hen you shoot like that you are going to win, that is the bottom line,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “That is what it came down to. We just shot it.”

‘Nova ended the contest shooting 60.5 percent from the field, while Temple struggled to muster up 27.1 percent. At the line alone the ‘Cats converted 12-18, while the Owls lone chance at the stripe left them empty handed.

The void in Temple’s offense can be partly attributed to sophomore forward Keith Butler’s bruised ankle bone that kept the Owls’ big man on the sidelines, and head coach John Chaney said a huge problem for this Temple squad is the lack of baskets by its forwards.

“We only have three guys [guards Salisbery, Mardy Collins and David Hawkins] that can score,” Chaney said. “You have to have someone inside so the defense can collapse … we just don’t.”

The stagnant Temple squad helped ‘Nova confidently run away to a 25-point victory, holding the Owls scoreless in the last five of six minutes in the contest.

For the morning Foye and Ray led ‘Nova each with 20 points, while Foye also picked up his first double-double grabbing 10 rebounds. Classmate Curtis Sumpter was not far behind with 14 points and nine boards, while Nardi finished his collegiate debut with 11 points. Freshman forward Will Sheridan only contributed four points and three boards, but a solid 40 minutes of play pointed to a the much needed reliable presence underneath.

On Temple’s side, Hawkins led the Owls with 16.

Villanova’s predawn victory came amidst much pre-game controversy surrounding the players and the two basketball programs.

For starters many questioned whether or not ‘Nova would even be competitive enough to stay in the game tonight, after losing several key players to injuries while others remained sidelined serving suspensions for breaking NCAA regulations last season for misuse of a University telephone access code.

The team did not find out until Nov. 20 that Sumpter would be eligible to play. The forward still has to serve a three game suspension, but was granted permission to play by the NCAA for health reasons. The stress fracture to sophomore Jason Fraser’s left foot left the ‘Cats without two true forwards eligible for the first three games of the season, and the NCAA states that a team must have at least two forwards to play in a contest for the safety of the team. With Sumpter and Chris Charles each having three games of suspension left, the pair will rotate playing for the first six games, providing ‘Nova its second true forward alongside Sheridan.

“When we found out we didn’t have Jason Fraser we were hoping we would have him [Sumpter],” Wright said. “He didn’t get to practice with us all week, he was always on the second team and definitely he was a help.”

The pre-game buzz also centered on the scheduling conflict that led to its early morning tip-off time. Villanova asked Temple to change what it thought was a tentative Nov. 21 date earlier this year so the ‘Cats could play two teams in California before heading off to the Maui Invitational Nov. 24-26.

Chaney publicly decried such an adjustment saying his Owls would never play the ‘Cats again if not on Nov. 21, maintaining that the date was penned into the schedule. Even though the two athletic departments came to the 12:01 a.m. agreement that allows ‘Nova enough time to head to the West Coast to play College of Redlands Nov. 22 at 1 p.m. before continuing on to Hawaii, there is little love lost for Chaney.

“If it were up to me we would have never played them again,” Chaney said. “Seems to me they had scheduled somebody else on our date. I live by my word and always have.”

Despite Chaney’s wishes the Big 5’s traditional round-robin play is still in tact, but the ‘Cats have little time to celebrate their first step to city champion. The men have less than eight hours to make it from the locker room to the airport where they will continue their cross country journey, playing a potential five games in six days. Let the madness continue.