Team Effort Leads Villanova Past Seton Hall, 73-67


Maggie Mengel/Villanovan Photography

Jermaine Samuels (above) had a game-high-tying 16 points.

Colin Beazley, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Tied at 67 with under two minutes remaining, neither Seton Hall nor Villanova looked surprised. 

The series’ recent history speaks for itself. In March 2019, the Pirates beat the Wildcats by four. A week later in the Big East Championship game, the Wildcats edged the Pirates by two. In February 2020, Seton Hall won by six before losing by two in the rematch in New Jersey a month later. During the 2020-2021 season, in the span of a week and a half, Seton Hall dropped two matchups by two and eight points, respectively, and earlier this season, a jumper from junior guard Justin Moore with 90 seconds left was the difference as the Wildcats won by six.

Saturday afternoon was just another chapter in arguably the best rivalry in the Big East right now, as the Wildcats closed the game on a 6-0 run to win 73-67, an identical scoreline to the matchup earlier this season. Senior forward Brandon Slater made a layup with 1:26 to play to put the Wildcats ahead for good, and Moore iced the game with four late free throws.

The back and forth nature of the game was a symptom of how well the two teams and their respective coaches know each other.

“(Villanova head coach) Jay (Wright) and I have been in this league a long time,” Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard said. “I kind of know what Jay’s going to do, Jay knows what I’m going to do… So to prepare your team, to play against someone that you know inside and out, I mean, I know Jay’s plays better than Jay does. We go into the games and we know what we have to do.”

Wright said much of the same after the game.

“It’s a Seton Hall Villanova game,” Wright said. “You can’t expect anything different.”

Villanova was led by a balanced scoring attack, as all five starters scored in double digits and every player to see the floor scored. Moore and graduate forward Jermaine Samuels led the team with 16 points, while Kadary Richmond and Tray Jackson led the Pirates with 16 each as well. Seton Hall and Villanova shot nearly identical clips from the field, shooting 43% and 42%, respectively.

The intensity of the game was clear from the tipoff. Seton Hall made six of its first nine threes, but the Wildcats forced nine turnovers to go into half down just three despite going nearly five minutes without a field goal.

“Sometimes, if you play horrible and it’s close, you feel fortunate,” Wright said. “I didn’t think we played horrible. I thought they were playing really well… We just felt like this [was] going to be a grind.”

The Wildcats quickly embarked on a 9-0 run in the second half, sparked by a three from redshirt senior Caleb Daniels and a technical foul on Willard. However, the Pirates responded with an 11-0 run of their own to retake the lead, before Villanova had another 9-0 run to erase the deficit.

Junior guard Chris Arcidiacono hit a three to give the Wildcats a five point lead and some breathing room with four minutes to go, but within a minute Seton Hall had retaken the lead again.

Up two points in the final minute, Daniels and Moore missed two chances to put the game away, but both times Villanova came up with an offensive rebound. The first offensive rebound came courtesy of graduate guard Collin Gillespie, although Wright described his captain, playing through an ankle injury, as “not close to 100 percent.” 

“I’m fine,” Gillespie said. “I’m playing through.”

The Pirates had injury woes of their own, playing without senior guard Bryce Aiken, who has been out since Jan. 15 with a concussion. Aiken scored 22 points in the Pirates’ earlier matchup with Villanova, and without him, the Pirates lacked someone who could finish off the game.

“Obviously we miss him,” Willard said of Aiken, “but what are we gonna do?”

With the win, Villanova improved to 19-6, 12-3 in Big East play, and trails Providence by just two losses. Seton Hall falls to 16-8, 6-7 in the conference. 

On Tuesday, the Wildcats have perhaps their most important game of the season, as they travel to Rhode Island to face the 21-2 Friars. Although recent history has been in Villanova’s favor, as the Wildcats have won six of the last eight, both Willard and Wright included the Friars as a team they’re very familiar with, and a team that’s very difficult to beat. Providence head coach Ed Cooley has coached the Friars since 2011, while Willard has coached the Pirates since 2010.

“I think that’s what makes this league unique is the fact that we’ve had some guys in the league for so long,” Willard said.

“Our conference is the best basketball conference in the country, year in and year out, night in and night out,” Wright said. “I’m proud to be a part of it.”