Fastbreak Friday: Villanova looks to extend unprecedented 5-year streak

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Fastbreak Friday: Villanova looks to extend unprecedented 5-year streak

NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Amy Fadool and senior producer Sean Kane get you set for all the weekend’s local college basketball games with Fastbreak Friday. Look for this column every Friday during the college basketball season.

No. 4 Villanova (7-0) at Saint Joseph's (4-3), Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
Villanova enters the latest installment of its rivalry with St. Joe's aiming for a 20th straight Big 5 win after cruising past Penn, 90-62, on Wednesday night. The fourth-ranked Wildcats’ record-setting run of dominance over their city rivals has been nothing short of remarkable. Seventeen of their last 19 Big 5 wins have come by double digits. The last time a city team came within 10 points of Villanova ... December of 2012.

It was more of the same Wednesday against Penn, with the Wildcats sprinting out to an 18-point halftime lead en route to a 28-point win. Juniors Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges continued to prove they belong on the short list of the best 1-2 punches in the country, combining for 37 points on an efficient 11 of 17 shooting.

However, the most important development from Wednesday’s win was the emergence of redshirt freshman big man Omari Spellman, who scored 10 of Villanova’s first 16 points against Penn. Spellman finished with 14 points and seven rebounds and went six of 12 from the field, including two of three from three-point range. This performance came after Spellman struggled mightily on the offensive end in Villanova’s three games in the Battle 4 Atlantis last week. Spellman is the X-factor for the Wildcats — his confidence and effectiveness will go a long way in determining the level of Villanova’s success.

Meanwhile, Saint Joseph’s is coming off an 83-70 win over Bucknell on Wednesday. Seniors James Demery and Shavar Newkirk combined for 39 points as the Hawks shook off a lackluster showing at the Wooden Legacy Tournament over Thanksgiving weekend. Saint Joseph’s is still without the services of its best player, Charlie Brown, who remains sidelined due to a preseason wrist injury.

The Hawks will be significant underdogs against Villanova but expect them to put their best foot forward playing on their home court. Hagan Arena will be rocking Saturday night, but that shouldn’t faze the veteran Wildcats and their extraordinarily poised floor general Brunson. Look for Villanova to pull away in the second half for a 20th straight Big 5 victory.

Villanova 81, Saint Joseph’s 66

Temple (4-1) at George Washington (3-4), Sunday, 2:30 p.m. on NBCSP
 It’s said those who don’t learn from their mistakes, bear to repeat them. The Temple Owls learned that very lesson this week. Once again they found themselves with an 11-point lead in the second half for the second time in a week. But on Thursday, the Owls kept their foot on the gas pedal to put away South Carolina and win by 16 points. 

Earlier in the week, an 11-point lead with 11 minutes to go was quickly erased by La Salle in a hard-fought Big 5 battle that saw the Explorers come away with the victory. 

And that feeling of what could’ve been traveled with Temple to Madison Square Garden on Thursday as they faced South Carolina in the Under Armour Reunion tournament. Temple led the Gamecocks by 11 at the half, but kept pouring it on a defensively top-ranked team and closed out the game, winning 76-60. 

Up next, it’s another tournament away from Philadelphia. In fact, the Owls have only played one game, their lone loss which came to the Explorers, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Maybe Fran Dunphy is onto something here. 

This weekend it’s the BB&T Classic in our nation’s capital. George Washington comes into the game struggling out of the gates a bit, though the Colonials did win their most recent game against Morgan State. They are paced by Yuta Watanabe, who’s averaging nearly 15 points per game in the early season and just posted 26 in the win over Morgan State this week. 

If you think you've heard of Watanabe before, you’re right. The senior had the distinction of being the first ever Japanese-born player to receive a Division I basketball scholarship in 2014. But he’s no gimmick. So the Owls will have their hands full. 

The good news, Temple has serious depth all over the court, and maybe most notably now in their frontcourt. Sophomore center Damion Moore has been very solid off the bench and earned his first career double-double in the win over South Carolina with 20 points and 10 rebounds. 

Temple continues it’s winning streak away from Philly. 

Temple 78, George Washington 67 

La Salle (4-3) vs. Towson (6-1), Friday, 2 p.m. in Belfast Classic in Ireland
La Salle heads across the pond to take part in the Belfast Classic in Northern Ireland this weekend, beginning with Friday afternoon’s matchup with Towson. The Explorers have momentum on their side following last Sunday’s dramatic comeback win over Temple.

La Salle trailed Temple by 11 midway through the second half, only to storm back to close the game on a 32-17 run. Junior Pookie Powell and senior B.J. Johnson were terrific for the Explorers, scoring 29 and 25 points, respectively.

Friday’s game against Towson certainly won’t be a walk in the park for La Salle. Towson is 6-1 on the season, including an eight-point win over Penn. Keep in mind that La Salle needed two overtimes to beat Penn two weeks ago. But I like how the Explorers are playing right now. Expect plenty of points in this one, with La Salle eventually outlasting Towson in the opening round of the Belfast Classic.

La Salle 79, Towson 75

Rider (5-2) at Drexel (3-4), Saturday, 4 p.m.
Drexel has been on quite a ride in the early season. They beat Houston but lost to NJIT. That's not an indictment on either of those opponents as much as it's a quandary as to the identity of this Drexel team. The Dragons scored 84 points in the win over Houston but could only muster 53 in the loss to NJIT.  Points seem to be at a premium for Zach Spiker's team. In two of their four losses, they failed to crack the 60-point mark. But to no surprise, it's the exact opposite in their three wins.

Most recently, the Dragons capped off a furious second-half comeback and won the game with 13 seconds to go. Yes, it was against a winless Lafayette team, but it was a win nonetheless and one in which they needed all of their scorers to contribute. Perhaps most importantly, it was another breakout game for Tremaine Isabell. The junior was seven of 15 from the field for 19 points. He also came away with eight rebounds, four assists and two steals. Isabell is the engine that makes the Dragons go, but like any motor, it takes more than one part to get things going. Austin Williams continues to provide a consistent post presence, but Spiker needs more from veteran Sammy Mojica, who did add 10 points but on three of 14 shooting.

This weekend, Drexel will face a tested Rider squad. Rider is legit, and not just, 'Hey, we're a lower mid-major, we can play' type of legit. The Broncs have only two losses. One came in their second game, on the road, against top-25 Xavier. The second was just this week against another Big East team. But the Providence Friars needed the final minutes to take care of Rider by just four points. That tells me plenty. Well, that, and what I hear from a valued member of this website's staff who proudly attended Rider. In fact, he may have posted this very story, so, "Hi, Jordan Hall." I know that a strong contingent of Bronc supporters will be taking the Bronc Zoo to the DAC this weekend. And they should be rewarded with a win.

Rider 85, Drexel 77

Prediction Records
Sean Kane:
Amy Fadool: 3-5

Penn State holds off Marquette to reach NIT semifinals

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Penn State holds off Marquette to reach NIT semifinals


MILWAUKEE -- Lamar Stevens tied his career high with 30 points, Tony Carr added 25 and Penn State beat Marquette 85-80 on Tuesday night to advance to the NIT semifinals.

The Nittany Lions (24-13) will face Mississippi State (25-11) at Madison Square Garden in New York on March 27. They advanced to the NIT semis for the first time since winning the 2009 tournament.

Stevens hit three crucial buckets in the final three minutes, including a dunk off an alley-oop pass from Josh Reaves for an eight-point lead with one minute left. The 6-foot-8 Stevens then maneuvered through a couple Marquette players to secure a rebound off Andrew Rowsey's missed 3 with 46 seconds left.

Carr went 5 of 8 from the foul line over the final 30 seconds to give Marquette another chance. Rowsey hit a 3 and a layup to get the Golden Eagles as close as 83-80 with six seconds left before the Golden Eagles ran out of time.

Shep Garner scored 19 points and set two Penn State records, including most 3s in a season (112). Garner's 73 career wins are the most in a four-year span since Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1992-93.

Rowsey, a senior, scored 29 points for Marquette (21-14).

The Golden Eagles had whittled a 14-point deficit early in the second half to 72-68 with 2:39 left on three foul shots by Rowsey. Penn State went nearly three minutes without a bucket and got sloppy with the ball and the sharpshooting Golden Eagles started hitting 3s to get back in the game.

Villanova, Penn with polar opposite NCAA Tournament draws

Villanova, Penn with polar opposite NCAA Tournament draws

No surprises on the Main Line and well, the Quakers have quite the hill to climb to advance.

Villanova on Sunday night was awarded the 1-seed in the East Region and will face the winner of the LIU Brooklyn/Radford game Thursday in Pittsburgh. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:50 p.m. on TNT.

The Wildcats have been a top-two seed since 2014 and it's the second straight year they're a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova was the No. 1 overall seed in last year's tournament.

Penn was named the 16th seed in the Midwest Region and will face the No. 1-seeded Kansas Jayhawks on Thursday at 2 p.m. on TBS in Wichita, Kansas.

Steve Donahue has the Quakers back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007 in his third season as Penn's head coach.

The Quakers are 24-8 and this will be their 24th-ever appearance in the tournament.

'Nova survived a scare from Providence on Saturday night to win its second straight Big East title and its third in the past four years.

If the Wildcats beat LIU Brooklyn/Radford, they'll face the winner of the No. 8-seeded Virginia Tech and No. 9 seed Alabama. Purdue is the No. 2 seed in the East.

Also in the East are No. 3 Texas Tech and No. 4 Wichita State.