Oh So Sweet: Villanova Defeats Michigan, 63-55, To Advance to Elite Eight


Courtesy of Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Collin Gillespie scored 12 points, including a three to seal the victory for Villanova.

Colin Beazley, Co-Editor-in-Chief

SAN ANTONIO In a matchup featuring a center larger-than-life in every sense of the word, it was the little things that made the difference.

Michigan entered the game with the eleven seed and a 19-14 record, but with a big man that a Michigan beat writer referred to as “the great equalizer.” Seven-foot-one Hunter Dickinson, the center who his coach Phil Martelli said would be a perfect WWE villain if the whole basketball thing doesn’t work out. Dickinson, the sophomore who taunted Big Ten rivals who would be watching Thursday’s game “back in their cribs.” Dickinson, the man who even trash talked Hall of Famer Tom Izzo. Dickinson, the player who averaged nearly a double-double a game, the focal point of a dangerous team, and the main man standing in the way of Villanova reaching the Elite Eight. Dickinson, a real life giant, who would now face off with a team that didn’t play anyone taller than 6’8”.

The end result? 15 rebounds for Dickinson, as expected, but just 15 points. Michigan outscored Villanova in the paint, but in the end, by just two points. When the final buzzer sounded, the two stats that stood tall weren’t Dickinson’s statline, nor related to Dickinson at all. First, Villanova’s sixth man, 6’4” Caleb Daniels, was +15 in his 35 minutes on the court. Second, Villanova went 10-12 from the line, while Michigan missed its first five attempts, shooting just 50% in the game.

The end result that matters? Villanova 63, Michigan 55. Villanova stays in San Antonio, moving on to the Elite Eight, while Michigan heads back to their cribs.

“It just wasn’t our night out there,” Dickinson said.

Graduate forward Jermaine Samuels was the leader for the ‘Cats, scoring a game-high 22 points and adding seven rebounds. Samuels was tasked with defending Dickinson for much of the game, and on top of the offensive output, limited Dickinson to just 6-16 shooting from the field.

“It was awesome,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said of Samuels’ play. “I was really proud of his effort on the defensive end. We asked a lot of him on the defensive end, guarding Dickinson a lot, but then on the offensive end we were trying to move Dickinson around, which it sounds good unless you’re the guy that’s got to do it. … Eric (Dixon) did it for some part of the night, but mostly it was Jermaine, and that was a gutty effort, man. I know he’s exhausted.”

Daniels, a redshirt senior guard, scored just eight points, missing all five of his attempts from three, but led the team with nine rebounds, adding three assists, a block and a steal as well. Whenever the ‘Cats needed a defensive play or a spark, Daniels was there.

“We don’t care if our shots go in or if our offense is flowing nice, we just care about getting stops,” Daniels said postgame. “That’s one thing I want to take pride in as well. I was able to come out the second half and get stops and defend [and] rebound [for] 40 minutes.”

Junior guard Justin Moore and graduate guard Collin Gillespie were also in double figures on the night, as Moore had 15 and Gillespie had 12. Gillespie scored all his points from deep, shooting 4-10 from distance, while Moore was 5-13 from the field.

At halftime, Villanova led by three, but Michigan had left five points on the board at the free throw line. The Wolverines were just 1-6 in the first half, while the Wildcats were 4-5.

“We lost by however much,” Michigan graduate guard Eli Brooks said. “We left a lot of points out there.”

With 3:19 remaining, Michigan’s Terrance Williams brought his team within four with two made free throws, but Villanova’s experience showed through from there. Samuels blew past Dickinson for a layup to extend the lead to six, then Gillespie hit the dagger from beyond the arc, growing the lead to nine with less than two minutes left. The Wildcats forced seven straight missed field goals from there, ending Michigan’s season and clinching a berth in the Regional Final.

“I think we tried to pressure the ball a little bit more and not get into the paint for [easy] post-ups,” Moore said of the team’s defensive effort. “Just being tough in the scoring area. We know they like to drive in the paint. [We were] pressuring them and making them take tough shots.”

With 15 seconds remaining, Villanova fans’ hearts stopped when Gillespie went down clutching his knee after grabbing a defensive rebound. Gillespie was reported to be “fine” after the game, but the image of their leader in pain was a worrying one.

“We’re beat up,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “We’ve got to rest up. … It’s about surviving now.”

In the final seconds, it was Samuels who had the last word, hitting four free throws to finish the game. When Wright pulled his star from the game in the closing seconds, Wright gave encouragement to the forward.

“[He told me] that I was very tough and that we had to keep it going,” Samuels said. “That’s as simple as it was.”

Wright said the same thing.

“Just that I was proud of his toughness. We got more work to do.”