Suspensions cost ‘Cats in final home game

Cailin Brophy

Amidst the controversy and turmoil surrounding the Villanova men’s basketball team this week, seven players suited up for the almost-forgotten game at the First Union Center Sunday against the seventh-ranked Pittsburgh Panthers.

The ‘Cats, who trailed by nine or more points throughout much of the game, went on a 9-2 run in the final two minutes of the contest, and had a chance for the win with 3.0 seconds remaining. However, an errant in-bounds pass did not find its way to the basket in time, and the Panthers escaped with a 56-54 victory.

The suspension-depleted ‘Cats used a modified game plan of zone defense and half-court offense which enabled the players to avoid fatigue and put in a full afternoon of work on the court. The starting lineup of Derrick Snowden, Marcus Austin and freshmen Curtis Sumpter, Randy Foye and Allan Ray got a combined total of two minutes’ rest the entire game.

“It was hard for us because we’re used to getting out and running, attacking on offense, but today we had to preserve our energy,” Sumpter said. “It was a pretty smart game plan though, because in the end we were able to make a run.”

The ‘Cats late-game burst was aided by the foul-happy Panthers, who sent ‘Nova to the line five times in the final two minutes. Pitt point guard Brandin Knight struggled at the end of the contest as well, missing five straight free throws and turning the ball over on several key possessions in the final moments.

“I’m very proud of our guys and their effort,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “I’m sure everyone is disappointed and we are too, but the only thing we have left to do is to go out and play with pride.”

Although Wright will be spending the final games of the season looking a bench full of seniors in suits and walk-ons as his only subs, there were some positives to be found in the team’s regular season finale defeat. The freshman trio of forward Sumpter and guards Foye and Ray played admirably despite the disruption and modified game plan, combining for 44 of the team’s 54 points.

“I think we showed a lot of character,” Snowden said of his team’s effort. “A lot of teams, when adversity strikes, their true colors show. I think overall we showed that no matter what, we’re going to stick together.”

The ‘Cats have been on a downward spiral in dropping nine of their last 12 games, including four straight, and may not receive a bid to the NIT if the selection committee deems them incapable of competing with their limited roster. However, with the Big East Tournament on the horizon, ‘Nova hasn’t thrown in the towel.

“A lot of people were expecting us to fail, but we came here expecting to win and we played that way,” Sumpter said. “This is basically next year’s team so we were trying to make a statement that way as well.”

The team of the future will have its work cut out for them on Wednesday when they face post-prowler Mike Sweetney and Georgetown in the opening round of the Big East Tournament. Game time is set for 7 p.m.