Wildcats Dominate Early, Hold on Late, for Road Victory over Providence


Courtesy of USA Today

Wildcats Dominate Early, Hold on Late, for Road Victory over Providence

Owen Carberry

On Saturday afternoon, the Villanova Wildcats defeated the Providence Friars, 65-59, in their first road test of Big East play at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. 

After the ‘Cats lost in this same venue last year, and had a sluggish start against DePaul in the conference opener, it was crucial for the team to come out strong in a hostile environment—and they did just that.

A strong first half on both ends of the floor, bolstered by contributions from a variety of players, gave the men’s basketball team the cushion it needed to hold off a late run by the Friars and secure the victory. 

Senior guard Phil Booth picked up where he left off in the second half against DePaul, hitting his first three shots from distance to give the ‘Cats an early 9-0 lead and force Providence coach Ed Cooley to use a timeout just two minutes into the game. The Friars remained scoreless until the 16:23 mark when Freshman guard David Duke finally broke the ice. This was the story of the first half for the Friars, who struggled to get anything going on offense, failing to convert on many open shots and missing 10 free throws.

In addition, senior forward Eric Paschall had a major impact in the first half. He asserted himself early and often on the offensive end, and dominated the glass en route to ten rebounds at the half. For much of the season, Paschall has been met with double teams on the offensive end, forcing him to kick the ball out to or take tough contested shots. Providence did not opt to employ this strategy, and consequently the 6’8 forward displayed his ability to establish himself and score both inside and out. He finished the first half with 11 points on 4-7 shooting from the field.

Even with the team’s two senior leaders outstanding performances, it was the role players who shined through in the first twenty minutes. After not playing at all against DePaul, sophomore forward Jermaine Samuels had a nice impact off the bench, hitting a three to extend the lead to fifteen to go along with a steal and a block. Freshman forward Cole Swider stepped up as well after not seeing the floor last game, sinking a three pointer and contributing five points in the half. 

Stifling defense was another key in allowing the Wildcats to build their early lead. Up 43-25 at the break, they held the Friars to just 29.6% from the field and 1-11 (9.1%) from 3. In particular, Phil Booth showcased lockdown defense on junior Alpha Diallo, Providence’s leading scorer on the season, holding him to just four points in the first half. The bright spots for Friars included senior guard Isaiah Jackson, who contributed 7 points off the bench and brought energy on both ends, as well as sophomore guard Makai Ashton-Langford who had 8 points off the bench.

The Friars came out of the break fired up, answering with a quick five points to cut the lead to 43-30. The crowd at the Dunk’ erupted after the made three by Ashton-Langford, as it finally seemed as if Providence had some life. However, the Wildcats were not fazed and responded with a great run of their own, building the lead back up to 60-40. This run saw contributions from the same few players who stood out earlier. Jermaine Samuels hammered down a monstrous dunk over a defender for a three-point play, and a few minutes later freshman guard Jahvon Quinerly took it the length of the floor and made use of a sweet euro step for the finish. 

The game seemed to be in hand for the Wildcats, but a sudden prolonged scoring drought allowed the Friars to climb back into the game. After a Cole Swider jumper made it a twenty point lead with 8:43 to go, the Friars took advantage of the ‘Cats cold shooting and costly turnovers to go on a 16-0 run, capped by a three-point play by Alpha Diallo that sent the Dunkin’ Donuts Center into a frenzy. On this run, Diallo was finally able to get going, and Makai Ashton-Langford made some big shots. 

With just under 1:30 to go and the leading 60-56, Phil Booth was isolated at the top of the key, looking to make the biggest play of the day for the Wildcats. He drove left, drew the foul on Isaiah Jackson, and finished with a scoop layup for the three-point play. Providence refused to back down though, as Ashton-Langford hit another three pointer cut the lead back down to 63-59. The sophomore guard came up huge for the Friars down the stretch, but made perhaps the most costly mistake of the game at the finish. With 24 seconds to go and his team trailing by four, Langford inexplicably dribbled near half court for 17 seconds until Cooley was finally forced to call timeout. While it is impossible to know what he was thinking, some suspect he was not aware of the score (a la J.R. Smith) and thought they were only down by 3. Phil Booth made two free throws in the final seconds to seal what was a stressful ending for Villanova.

All things considered, this was a solid road win for the Wildcats. The first half was arguably the best that the team has played as a group thus far, but the second half was characterized by the same issues that have haunted them in losses. During the late scoring drought which lasted over seven minutes, the Wildcats reverted to heavy isolation sets on offense, rather than moving the ball and keeping everyone involved, which is exactly how they built their early lead. 

“I thought it was just a case of us just not playing intelligently in that stretch,” said coach Jay Wright about the prolonged scoring drought. “Instead of making the extra pass, each guy was trying to get that basket that’s the dagger. It’s tough when you’re on the road and they’re playing aggressively.”

The Wildcats will face another big time conference test in their next game against St. John’s Red Storm, who are 14-1 on the year.