Villanova Survives Providence, 76-74


Courtesy of Villanova Athletics

Eric Dixon (above) posted 15 points in Villanova’s win.

Owen Hewitt, Staff Writer

No. 11 Villanova escaped No. 9 Providence 76-74 Tuesday evening at the Finneran Pavilion, moving to 22-7 overall and 15-4 in the Big East. The win has major postseason implications, as it secures the second seed at the Big East Tournament for the Wildcats.  

The Wildcats had four players in double figures on the night, including senior guard Caleb Daniels, who had a game-high 20 points. It was the largest scoring sum put up by Daniels since transferring to Villanova in 2019. Sophomore forward Eric Dixon and graduate guard Collin Gillespie put up 15 and 14, respectively, with Gillespie also adding five assists.

Junior guard Jared Bynum led the Friars, posting a 19-point 10-assist double-double in the loss. Graduate forward Noah Horchler and senior guard A.J. Reeves each contributed 15 to the Friars’ scoring effort. 

“How many more [close games] do we need?” Villanova head coach Jay Wright joked post-game. “We’ve been in these on the road, we’ve been in these at home. I think that the Big East tournament’s going to be incredible. As we know, anybody in this league can beat anybody. You get on a neutral court up there, it’s going to be really good basketball.”

The Friars got off to a hot start, making their first three shot attempts, all from 3, but then went cold, converting on just one of their next nine attempts. The score in the first half stayed close through the first ten minutes, but the ‘Cats were eventually able to break the game open, closing the half on a 16-2 run to take a 40-26 lead into halftime. 

“[That run] was really good for us because we had young guys out there,” Wright said. “We had Chris Arcidiacono out there, we had Jordan Longino out there, Jermaine (Samuels) and Eric were both in foul trouble, so to be able to increase our lead there was really important and I told those guys at halftime I was really proud of them.”

Gillespie had contributed 10 points at the half, and Dixon had scored seven. The ‘Cats were able to take advantage of Providence turnovers, scoring 13 points on eight turnovers from the Friars. 

In the second half, the Friars came out hot and stayed hot, shooting 10-of-13 from three in the final period. Over the first nine minutes of the first half, the ‘Cats were outscored 22-11, and the Friars were able to erase the 14-point halftime lead and even the scoreline at 48 with 11:37 remaining. 

Daniels played a major part in staving off the Friars as 14 of his points came in the second half, including a stretch of eight straight.

“Caleb’s a starter for us, we know that,” Wright said. “He plays as many minutes as the starters, and we’ve got great confidence in him. He’s a really confident offensive player… He definitely changed the game in that spurt.”

Four of his points came on crucial end of game free throws to maintain a three-point lead for the ‘Cats in the closing seconds.

“It’s just being confident and just stepping up for my teammates,” Daniels said. “Guys had been making plays the whole game, and those were the moments where I just had to step up and make those plays. If that’s making a free throw, making a shot, getting a rebound, getting a stop, no matter what I just have to step up for my brothers, and that was the only thing that was on my mind.”

The ‘Cats will be in action next on Saturday, Mar. 5, at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, as the team visits Butler for the final game of the season. The game will tip-off at noon eastern. The ‘Cats will then enter postseason play, as the Big East tournament kicks off Mar. 9 at Madison Square Garden. The second seeded Wildcats will have a first-round bye and will play the winner of the No. 7 seed vs. No. 10 seed matchup, which is currently slated to be St. John’s vs. DePaul.