Wildcats move to Top 10 after winning Legends Classic

Kristian Stefanides

Home in Brooklyn at the Barclays Center, senior forward JayVaughn Pinkston stepped up to the plate and put forth an outstanding effort in the final 13 seconds of the game to help the No. 10 Villanova men’s basketball team edge No. 19 Michigan, 60-55, in the championship game of the 2014 Progressive Legends Classic. 

With 13 seconds remaining in the game, the Brooklyn native scored the go-ahead basket on a drive and sealed the deal with an impressive block to ultimately award Villanova the victory. While Michigan was down 56-55 with 7.8 seconds left in regulation, Pinkston, who was named to the all-tournament team, blocked a Michigan shot under the basket in epic fashion to cause a Michigan turnover and help the Wildcats regain possession. In the final seconds, Michigan scrambled to get the ball back, causing fouls, which allowed junior guard Ryan Arcidiacono to sink four free throws to award the Wildcats the crown.

Not only did Pinkston have the limelight in the block category, but junior guard Dylan Ennis also added a pair of blocks, along with 15 points to the stats sheet in the championship game. Due to his remarkable play throughout the tournament, Ennis was titled the Most Valuable Player.

The championship win was the second consecutive in-season tournament title. Last season, the ‘Cats captured the 2013 Battle 4 Atlantis crown in the Bahamas. This is only the second time in Villanova history that the ’Cats won back-to-back consecutive year tournament titles–the team won the 2008 Philly Hoop Group Classic along with the 2009 O’Reilly Auto Parts Classic championship. 

Head Coach Jay Wright was happy with his squad’s overall play and effort and was especially excited for Pinkston.

“We’re thrilled to win this tournament,” Wright said in an interview with Villanova Athletics. “I’m really happy for J.P. coming back to Brooklyn, being so unselfish and playing for his team.

“This was a really high level game between two teams at this point in the season. [Michigan] is tough. That’s no surprise. We competed against John Beilein teams at West Virginia. They are very well coached and a great defensive team. That’s what it was, two tough defensive teams going at it.”

The first 10 minutes of the contest proved to be a back-and-forth match between the Wildcats and the Wolverines, with Michigan earning the 12-11 edge. But in the final seven minutes of the half, Villanova’s defense put a stop to Michigan’s offense. 

The Wildcat defense held the Wolverines scoreless in those seven remaining minutes of the half just after Michigan’s junior guard Caris LeVert nailed a three-pointer. As the two teams headed to halftime, Villanova led 27-20. The Wildcat defense was strong throughout the first 20 minutes, as Michigan was 8-of-27 (.296) from the field. 

To start off the second half, Villanova used a convincing few possessions to take control of the opening minutes. The Wildcats overcame the Wolverines defensive unit to ignite a 6-0 run to add to their lead, jumping ahead 33-20 just 3:13 into the second frame. 

But despite Villanova’s offensive takeover in the first few minutes of the second half, Michigan certainly wasn’t out of the game and was sure to make their mark after finding momentum behind sophomore guard Zak Irvin’s short jump shot. 

Michigan continued to put the offensive pressure on with sharp ball movement and accurate shooting. The Wolverines upped their field goal attempts to 11-of-16 throughout the first 12 minutes of the second half (.618), whereas the Wildcats struggled to find the hoop. By the time that there were six minutes left on the clock, Michigan had built its lead to 51-43 which left Villanova with some catching up to do. 

And they did just that. The ‘Cats found fire under the feet and pushed the offensive boundaries for a 17-4 run to finish the game and defeat a hungry Michigan squad. Wright was proud of his team’s efforts at the tournament.

“I really cannot be happier,” Wright said. “We made a lot of mistakes. We can get a lot better. We still toughed it out and found a way to win. I like where our defense has gotten to at this point in the year.”

And as for Pinkston, the veteran forward was excited about the win, and felt that it was Wright’s guidance that propelled him and his team to victory.

 “It was a fun experience,” Pinkston said. “To win the tournament felt great. Coach always preaches to me about defense. He tells me scoring will come if I focus on defense and rebounding. That’s what I did tonight to help my team.”

Before the Wildcats had the opportunity to vie for the championship title, Villanova was faced with a talented No. 14 Virginia Commonwealth squad. Despite the teams’ nearly drawing even at halftime with Villanova only up by two points, the Wildcats stepped it up in the second half to post a convincing 77-53 victory over the Rams to send them to the ‘chip. 

It was a balanced team effort, as multiple players heavily contributed in the win. Pinkston tallied a solid 15 points and seven rebounds, while senior guard Darrun Hilliard added 14 points on the board, along with four rebounds and four helpers. Off the bench, sophomore forward Kris Jenkins posted 13 points and classmate Josh Hart at guard notched 10 points and five rebounds. Arcidiacono finished the night with nine assists and zero turnovers. 

Despite VCU’s aggression at the start of the second half that gave them a 36-32 lead, Villanova answered with a contest-deciding 19-2 run, that began with a crucial diving effort by Arcidiacono which led to a three-point play by Hart. 

Villanova outscored the Rams 45-23 in the final 20 minutes of the match, to send them to the championship. It was because of Villanova’s hustle that Wright felt the team secured their spot for a shot at the title.

“I thought that was a really pivotal point in the game,” Wright said. “I thought that play really set the tone. Not only did Arch dive on the ball, he looked up and kicked it ahead to Darrun. In our program, the diving pass is much more important than the and one it became for Josh.”