Wildcats topple Hawks in ‘Holy War’ by nearly 30 points



Larry Flynn

The highly anticipated “Holy War” was not such a battle after all.

In front of a rowdy home crowd, the Wildcats handed the Hawks their fifth consecutive loss at the Pavilion in a 74-46 blowout win.

This Villanova victory was the second blowout in as many years against the Hawks. The Wildcats have gotten the better of their cross-town rivals in recent history, and lead the all-time series, 47-27.

Saturday afternoon was no different as the experience of this Villanova team was too much for the inexperienced St. Joe’s squad. The Wildcats, who started their usual lineup of all juniors and seniors, simply outmatched the Hawks, who started two sophomores and a freshman.

“We have a lot of older guys and they have a lot of younger guys,” Head Coach Jay Wright said. “It takes maturity and leadership to blow out a rival.”

Although Villanova did get production from some of the team’s veterans, the Wildcats were paced by the play of their young bench, most notably from sophomore guard Josh Hart, who led the way with a team high of 12 points.

“[Hart] scored 35 points per game in high school,” Wright said.  “He could average 25, but we don’t need him to. There’s going to be a time when we’ll need it.”

Wright praised Hart as the team’s top energy player. Hart, then, praised his coach for the confidence he has bestowed on the sophomore guard.

“Coach trusts me to make shots,” Hart said, who went 2-2 from the 3-point line against the Hawks.

Hart wasn’t the only member of the Wildcat bench who excelled in extended playing time. Freshman guard Phil Booth went 4 of 7 from the field for 11 total points, including a jaw-dropping crossover midway through the second half. 

Perhaps the plays of the game, however, came on two alley-oop lobs to senior guard Darrun Hilliard—plays that were reminiscent of alumnus James Bell’s signature back-door cuts last season.

These two lobs were a microcosm of the tremendous ball movement that permeated throughout the contest. The Wildcats combined for 15 assists including four apiece from Hilliard, and junior guards Ryan Arcidiacono and Dylan Ennis. 

“Everyone wants to win,” sophomore forward Kris Jenkins said.  “We do what it takes to be successful.”

Equally as impressive as the offense was the defensive intensity of Villanova throughout the game. Staying in its classic 1-2-2 zone press for most of the game, the Wildcats forced 21 Saint Joe’s turnovers, and recorded 13 steals and six blocks. 

Sophomore forward Darryl Reynolds notched two of these blocks in his seventeen minutes of play, which was a career high in playing time. Reynolds has continued to improve throughout the early portion of the season, and filled in for junior forward Daniel Ochefu, who was plagued with foul trouble throughout most of the game.

Both Ochefu and senior forward JayVaughn Pinkston struggled a bit, although this didn’t sway the Wildcats away from their early season trend of feeding the post early on. By giving Pinkston and Ochefu touches down low, the perimeter game of Villanova opened up as the Wildcats hit nine 3-pointers on 23 attempts.

There’s no doubt that Villanova was impressive, but the same cannot be said about their cross-town rivals. St. Joe’s shot 30% from the field, 10% from the 3-point line, and 43% from the free-throw line. 

“It’s a really hard game when the ball doesn’t go in the basket,” said St. Joe’s Head Coach Phil Martelli. “We have to get back [to the gym] and work.”

Martelli said he believes his team still has a significant amount of progress to make this season, starting with star sophomore swingman DeAndre Bembry.

“He’s too fast on offense and too slow on defense,” Martelli said. “We have to get him playing at the right tempo.”

The one bright spot for the Hawks, however, was the play of sophomore walk-on Brendan Casper, who recorded nine points and nine rebounds. His energy helped St. Joe’s go on a small run towards the end of the first half.

“He’s not a walk-on,” Martelli said.  “He’s a basketball player.”

While Martelli was unimpressed with his team, he praised his opponent.

“What they do has been so well drilled,” Martelli said. “I’m in awe of how they play the game. I salute Villanova. The atmosphere was terrific.”

Indeed, the Pavilion was rocking for one of the most impressive performances of the young 2014-15 Villanova basketball season.