‘Nova ‘five’ play tough but bow out of NIT

Cailin Brophy

Villanova’s season officially came to an end Tuesday night in Albany N.Y., where the Wildcats lost steam in the opening round of the NIT, falling to Siena College 74-59.

The suspension-riddled ‘Nova squad ended its season 15-16, the first time the ‘Cats have ended below the .500 mark since the 1997-98 season, when they finished 12-17. The Saints, now 20-10 for the year, advance to the round one match-up against Western Michigan, who won a 63-62 nail-biter against Illinois-Chicago Wednesday night.

‘Nova’s trimmed-down seven man team came into the Pepsi Arena prepared to execute the same game plan that almost led to upsets against both Pitt and Georgetown.

In the first half, ‘Nova’s plan again seemed to work well, slowing down the game offensively and executing a zone defense against Siena. At one point in the first, the ‘Cats were up as high as 10 and went into the locker room up 22-28.

Coming back to the court, ‘Nova continued to play its game, but Sienna had a game plan of its own. The Saints evened out the score at 42-all with 12:15 left on the clock and proceeded to shoot the lights out of the ‘Cats from downtown, eliminating a chance for a ‘Nova comeback. Siena shot three from behind the arch in the midst of the ‘Cats’ Curtis Sumpter connecting at the charity stripe to put the Saints up by 10 with 8:59 remaining.

As the game clock wound down, so did the ‘Cats energy, while the Saints continued to find the basket from the perimeter, riding to a 74-59 victory.

The Saints were paced by Tommy Mitchell’s 23 points, going 6-10 from the field, hitting five from downtown and an unblemished 6-6 run at the line.

Sumpter ended his freshman year on the Main Line in fine form, even amidst the controversy surrounding the NCAA violations of unauthorized phone calls that led to the ‘Cats’ staggered suspensions. The Brooklyn native out of Bishop Loughlin High School played all 120 minutes of the final three ‘Nova outings for a combined 43 points and 23 rebounds, scoring 23 against Siena and grabbing seven boards.

Junior Derrick Snowden had 15 against the Saints, including three from behind the arch, while rookie Randy Foye also contributed 14 points and five rebounds.

Overall, Sumpter, Snowden, Foye, freshman Allan Ray and sophomore Marcus Austin amassed 587 of a possible 600 minutes in the final three games. Off the bench, walk-ons, junior Tom Grace and freshman Marcus Claxton were the only two eligible players permitted to play.

‘Nova’s loss to Siena comes just two weeks after the men’s basketball program was turned upside down after the allegations of extra benefits not permitted to an NCAA athlete. Twelve scholarship players were suspended three to eight games depending on the amount of the individual’s phone bills. The suspensions brought the senior’s collegiate basketball career to an abrupt end and popped the already teetering bubble hopes for an NCAA Tournament bid. Following the first round 46-41 loss to Georgetown, questions arose as to whether or not the ‘Cats would even receive an NIT bid.

With the season officially over, the coaching staff and players now turn their focus to resolving the remaining complications regarding the suspensions that will carry over into next year’s season and are prepared to start a clean slate as much as possible. Coming into this year’s campaign, high expectations were placed upon the ‘Cats, who boasted one of the top recruiting classes in the country; however, the season left much to be desired and Wright and company hope next year is the season the ‘Cats return to the dance after a four-year absence.