‘Nova takes down Temple on the road

Mitchell Berrang

On Wednesday night, the top ranked Villanova Wildcats took on, fellow Big 5 member and historic rival, Temple Owls. Temple was coming off five straight wins and had knocked off three top 25 opponents this year. Although the Wildcats enter the matchup boasting a number one AP ranking and were riding a five game winning streak, most ESPN college basketball analysts and local Philadelphia media reporters were flagging this game as an upset alert. Besides the upset storyline, there was a subliminal storyline as well. Highly touted freshman guard, Jalen Brunson, was facing his father’s, Rick Brunson’s, alma mater. Despite the echoing boos from the Temple students’ section, Brunson recorded a season high 25 points and led his Wildcats to an 83 – 67 victory. More importantly, the victory gave Villanova their third straight Big 5 title.

The first seven minutes of action was similar to any Big 5 game, which is a dogfight with both teams exchanging the lead. This classical battle continued until sophomore guard Phil Booth netted eight points during an 12 – 4 Villanova run that gave the Wildcats a 20 – 13 edge with 7:38 remaining in the half. It was at that point that Villanova truly began to hit their stride and never looked back at their Big 5 foe. Villanova closed out the half in fashion by sinking four out of five three-pointers down the stretch and went into the locker room having a twelve point advantage over the Owls with a halftime score of 35 – 23.

Junior guard Josh Hart is having arguably one of the best years out of all the guards in the country. However, Hart took a rare backseat role in the first half, which allowed underclassman frontcourt duo Phil Booth and Jalen Brunson to step into the limelight. Booth and Brunson provided the majority of the offense for the Wildcats in the first half. Due to the extreme defensive attention on Hart and senior standout Ryan Arcidiacono, Brunson and other players managed more of an offensive presence. While Booth paired up with Brunson to put on an offensive clinic in the first half, Brunson found a new scoring partner in Senior center Daniel Ochefu in the second half.

In the opening minutes of the second half, Villanova continued to hold their foot on the gas pedal as the Wildcats jumped out to 15 – 6 run on the Owls to extend their lead to 20 points by a score of 48 – 28 with 14:15 remaining in the second half. Coach Dunphy and his Owls put forth a valiant effort to cut into the Wildcats’ lead, but could not stop Villanova’s high-powered offensive attack. Despite Temple guard Trey Lowe registering 19 second half points, Temple failed to get within a single digit deficit the entire second half. Temple could not handle Ochefu’s inside presence, which was only complemented by Brunson’s impressive sharpshooting ability throughout the entire game.

Brunson and Ochefu combined for 31 points in the second half and ultimately solidified the victory over the Owls with a final score of 83 – 67. Among the Wildcats, Brunson led all scorers with 25 points converting 9 out of 11 from the field and draining 4 out of 5 from behind the three point arch. While, Ochefu added a near double-double with 16 points and nine boards. Junior forward Kris Jenkins chipped in 15 points as well.

This game spoke to the depth of Villanova’s lineup this year. The owls did a phenomenal job of quieting Hart and Arcidiacono by holding them to a combined 10 points. Nonetheless, despite being a freshman, Brunson proved himself as more than just a gifted facilitator. Brunson’s play legitimized him as a true scoring threat moving forward for the Wildcats.

“The great ones want that moment,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “Nothing about his shots was cheap. Every one of the nine he made was a big shot.” In the face of his father’s alma mater, Brunson was – quite simply put – unflappable. When asked about his career-high night, Brunson responded, “I came into this game with the same mentality as every other game. Coach (Wright) preaches to treat every game the same and that’s what I did.” The admirable maturity and steadfast composure speaks volumes to the bright future and seemingly limitless potential that lies ahead of the talented freshman.

Looking forward, Nova Nation should be confident in their Wildcats. Currently, Villanova not only holds the number one ranking in both the AP and coaches poll, but their impressive play explicitly proves they are deserving to hold such a high rank. From the looks of the Temple game, the Wildcats are not going to be giving up their elite ranking anytime soon.