Wildcats Hold Off St. Joe’s


Courtesy of Arizona Daily Star

Wildcats Hold Off St. Joe’s

Mike Keeley

Despite a second half run from the St. Joe’s Hawks, Villanova was able to hold on for a 70-58 victory on Saturday in a Big 5 matchup in the Pavilion. 

A 16-0 Hawks run late in the second half cut into what was once a 22-point Villanova lead, but proved not to be enough to overtake the ‘Cats. This victory represented the Wildcats 25th consecutive Big 5 win, as well as their 7th straight Holy War victory against St. Joe’s. Wildcats head coach Jay Wright is now 14-4 all time in the Holy War. 

The Wildcats offense started sluggishly on Saturday afternoon, as they made only three of their first eleven shots, all but one of which were three point attempts. This remained a pattern throughout, as Wright’s squad attempted a heaping 41 threes, over 68% of their shots, from behind the arc. Although the Wildcats ended up shooting 9-23(39%) from behind the arc before the break, the early cold stretch helped the Hawks keep the game within three points until the 9:58 mark of the first half. At this point a Joe Cremo deep ball extended the lead to 19-15. 

 This triple seemed to ignite something in Wright’s team, as from that point to the end of the half, the Wildcats made four of nine attempts from deep. Sophomore forward Jermaine Samuels led this reinvigorated effort, sinking the first two of those four triples. Playing in the frontcourt for the majority of his minutes, rather than acting as a sort of Swiss army knife as he had for much of this season, Samuels at times gave the offense the sort of five-out threat it has been missing since Omari Spellman declared for the NBA Draft. This relatively hot stretch gave the Wildcats the punch they needed to put some distance between them and the Hawks, and they went into the locker room up by double-digits, 38-28.

When the two teams came out of the break, Wright gave many of his younger players a chance to make an impression on the game. For those who want Wright to give the future of the program more playing time in the present, this experiment yielded mixed results. Samuels, along with the freshman trio of forward Saddiq Bey, forward Cole Swider, and guard Jahvon Quinerly all played at least five minutes in the second half, with Samuels leading the pack playing 13 of the available 20. After his eye-catching first half, Samuels’ only scoring output in the second was when he converted a three-point play, but his defensive efforts in the Wildcats’ half court trap and as the small-ball five were significant as well. Swider, on the other hand, flashed his offensive potential after a quiet first half, scoring 8 points on 4-6 shooting. The flipside of this is that, although Quinerly moved the ball and facilitated the offense well when given the chance against the Hawks, he shot 0-4 on the day and continued to struggle on defense. It did not help that when the lead was closed down to 13 points at 62-49, Wright once again showed how quick his hook is with his younger players, taking out not only Quinerly but also Bey.

Once Wright’s more trusted lineup of senior guard Phil Booth, sophomore guard Collin Gillespie, Cremo, senior forward Eric Paschall, and Samuels was in the game, however, the tide did not immediately turn. The Wildcats’ lead, once 22 points, shrank from 13 eventually down to six at 62-56 with just over two and a half minutes remaining. Fueling this run for the Hawks was primarily junior guard Lamarr Kimble, who scored eight of the sixteen points and started it off with two consecutive three pointers. 

Fortunately for Wright and the Wildcats, this was the closest the game got from there on out, as ‘Nova responded to the Hawks’ 16-0 run with an 8-2 run of their own to close out the game. 

Villanova will play its final Big 5 game of the year on Tuesday when they meet UPenn at 7 p.m.