NCAA

Jalen Brunson, Omari Spellman give Temple nightmare as No. 1 Villanova rolls

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Jalen Brunson, Omari Spellman give Temple nightmare as No. 1 Villanova rolls

BOX SCORE

In every play, there are protagonists and antagonists, heroes and villains. And some of us are drawn to the heroes while others revel in the villains.

And in the latest act of the historic Villanova-Temple rivalry Wednesday night in North Philly, a well-known Villanova hero and loathed Temple villain left his footprint yet again.

But this time, he was joined at the hip by an emerging jersey and shorts-wearing hero from the Main Line and a new North Broad Street villain who drew his first taste of Temple blood.

Star junior point guard Jalen Brunson sparkled with 31 points on 11 of 16 from the field, including 6 for 10 from downtown, and redshirt freshman Omari Spellman scorched the nets for 27 points of his own as that duo led No. 1 Villanova to a thorough 87-67 beatdown of Temple at the Liacouras Center (see observations).

The victory extended the record Big 5 win streak to 22 games for the Wildcats, now 11-0 on the season. Temple fell to 6-3.

After the game, all eyes, lights, cameras and recorders were on the dominant twosome, and rightfully so.

“I was just able to make my shots,” said Brunson, whose 31 points Wednesday were a career high. “I tried to make the right play at the right time. They were taking away certain plays and certain passes, so I was just trying to be aggressive.”

That ruthless aggression was on full display in the first half when Brunson came blazing out of the gate. He scored 10 straight Villanova points in a 1:57 span to ignite a 15-1 Wildcats run that pushed an eight-point lead all the way to a 20-point lead.

On that 10-0 personal run, Brunson showed his shifty elusiveness by dazzling a Temple defender and the crowd with a spinning layup and then showing his range with two treys. As the half went on, Brunson was scoring with every blink of an eye. He finished the half with 22 points.

With redshirt junior Phil Booth, who entered averaging 12.7 points per night, limited with a virus, Villanova head coach Jay Wright had a feeling Brunson would take command of this one.

“He was incredible,” Wright said. “It’s really no surprise to us. He can do that every night, but we like to keep balance. With Phil Booth being out … I knew [Brunson] was going to be more aggressive. They did a really good job taking away our perimeter guys, so it forced somebody to go create shots.

“He made the shots tonight and that was the difference.”

The Liacouras Center is always hostile territory for anyone wearing blue and white, but especially so for Brunson, who spurned the Owls to sign with the Wildcats three years ago out of high school even though his father, Rick, is a Temple legend who starred under John Chaney in the early 1990s.

Temple fans haven’t forgotten and peppered Brunson with every word and name in the book on Wednesday, just as they did two years ago when he made his first trip to North Philly as a Wildcat. That game two years ago was his true freshman arrival as he dropped 25 points in a spectacular performance. He’s a Temple menace as he’s dropped 69 points on 23 of 33 shooting, including 13 of 20 from downtown in three games against the Owls.

“It is what it is,” Brunson said of the not-so-flattering words from fans. “I try to keep the same mindset throughout every game. Being aggressive, trying to set the tone defensively, tell my teammates and the younger guys that we make sure to play through the full 40 minutes.

“It’s being aggressive and just trying to be a killer. Tonight was just one of those nights I got it going.”

On to his partner in crime Spellman, who lit up the scoreboard in a variety of ways in his first exposure to this heated rivalry. The 6-foot-9 redshirt freshman torched the Owls for his 27 points on 11 of 14 from the field — 7 for 7 inside the arc and brilliant touch on 4 for 7 outside the arc. He’s a matchup nightmare, perhaps unlike Wright has ever had on the Main Line.

“It definitely helps to be around players that are as good as my teammates are every day,” Spellman said.  

“We know we need an inside presence, and we know he can do that,” Wright said of Spellman. “As we’re doing that with him, we’re working on footwork and we’re watching him. We chart our shooters and we said, ‘This kid is one of our best shooters. What are we doing?’

“We can’t disregard the fact he’s one of our best shooters. With Phil down tonight and losing (Collin) Gillespie, we said to him, ‘Yo, you gotta do this.’ I’m sure he’s been waiting for it. He’s never asked. But he showed he can do it tonight.”

The performances of both Brunson and Spellman are testaments to the rich depth Villanova has. Booth was limited and leading scorer Mikal Bridges had an off night with just seven points. He averaged 18.1 coming in.

Still, Villanova barely had to look back. Quinton Rose’s career-high 27 points guided Temple’s efforts, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Not even his three straight threes in the first half that cut Villanova’s lead to seven and his subsequent shout for his teammates to "Wake up!" did the trick.

“They’re a team that just goes on some killer runs and they did that, obviously in the first half, which hurt us greatly,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “We got it back to seven in that first half and then they go on a 10-0 run that spaces them again. … You can’t make a mistake, and when you do, they take great advantage of it. Those runs are just devastating.

“They’ve got a lot of weapons and Bridges wasn’t a dominating player here. He can be dominating. Phil Booth can be dominating. Tonight it was Brunson and Spellman. They’re just a really good basketball team.”

Dunphy is a Big 5 lifer who’s seen it all in this game. And he said those quotes with an exasperated tone to his voice. His guys gave Villanova their best shot on this evening and still fell the way they did.

That right there should tell you just how good and scary this Villanova team is.

Villanova aims to keep momentum after huge win

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Villanova aims to keep momentum after huge win

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 college basketball season.

No. 1 Villanova (15-1, 3-1 Big East) at St. John's (10-7, 0-5), Saturday at 8 p.m.
SK
: Top-ranked Villanova is coming off a surprisingly easy 89-65 win over No. 10 Xavier at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday. The Wildcats turned in another stellar shooting display, connecting on better than 55 percent of their field goal attempts. More importantly, they clamped down defensively, holding Xavier to 65 points after allowing an average of 92 in their first three conference games.
 
Phil Booth was terrific in the victory with a career-high 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting with four assists and four steals. Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges were their typical selves, combining for 32 points. But it's the emergence of Eric Paschall that's been the biggest development for Villanova on the offensive end of the floor. The junior forward had 14 points against Xavier and is averaging 16 per game in Big East play, shooting a blistering 73.3 percent from the field in the process. Paschall's turnaround from three-point range has been nothing short of remarkable. He made just one of his 25 three-point attempts over the first 13 games of the season. Then he somehow turned into Ray Allen from long range, knocking down six of seven attempts in the last three games.
 
Now the Wildcats hit the road for their next three games beginning with Saturday night's visit to St. John's in Manhattan. After a promising start in non-conference play, the Red Storm has struggled mightily against Big East competition. They are 0-5 in league play and to make matters worse, they just lost one of their best players for the remainder of the season. Guard Marcus Lovett has been sidelined with a knee injury for the last 10 games and earlier this week the school announced he won't play again this season.
 
St. John's head coach Chris Mullin is steering his team through choppy waters. A visit from Villanova is the last thing he needs right now. The Red Storm always gets up to play Villanova at Madison Square Garden. But the Wildcats always have more than their share of supporters at MSG as well. I'd be surprised if Villanova doesn't take care of business against a reeling St. John's team.
 
Villanova 82, St. John's 65
 
Cornell (6-7, 0-0 Ivy) at Penn (10-5, 1-0), Friday at 8 p.m.
Columbia (3-10, 0-0 Ivy) at Penn (10-5, 1-0), Saturday at 7 p.m.
AF
: Not since the 2005-2006 season have the Quakers started a season like this, reaching the 10-win point before mid-January. Penn opened up Ivy League play with an impressive win over Princeton, their fifth win in their last six games. Next up for Steve Donahue’s team is the weekend slate of Cornell and Columbia.
 
It’s actually a doubleheader with the men’s and women’s teams, playing back to back on Friday and again on Saturday. The reason for it? Princeton, Penn’s travel partner, has exams next weekend and petitioned the league for both their men’s and women’s teams stay home this weekend. To study. For exams. In the middle of the season. And that is how you know you’re in the Ivy. The league agreed and the doubleheader was booked.
 
Penn scores just over 79 points a game, best in the Ivy, and is also one of the best defensive teams in the conference. They’ll have their hands full though with Cornell’s Matt Morgan, who's fourth in the nation in scoring with 25 points per game and averages an eye-popping 51 percent shooting from the field.
 
But I think this is a great way for Penn to start Ivy play 3-0 and sweep the weekend.
 
Penn 80, Cornell 76
Penn, 85, Columbia 70

 
Saint Joseph’s (7-8, 2-2 A-10) at Massachusetts (9-8, 2-2), Sunday at 5 p.m. on NBC Sports Network
AF
: As soon as St. Joe's thinks it's back on track, something comes and snatches that feeling away. It’s mostly happened because of injuries, but their most recent heartbreaker came in the form of a last-second loss to George Mason. Otis Livingston buried a deep three-pointer with one tick left on the clock to beat St. Joe’s by two.
 
The Hawks should try to focus on conference wins over VCU and St. Bonaventure last week to get that bad taste out of their mouths. Those two wins over teams above them in the standings could be a better barometer of the potential of Phil Martelli’s team.
 
This one could go either way and the last time I picked against St. Joe's they beat the Bonnies. But that was at home, road games are a different animal.
 
UMass 77, St. Joseph’s 76
 
Memphis (11-6, 2-2 AAC) at Temple (8-8, 1-4), Saturday at 2 p.m.
SK
: There are desperately needed wins, then there's Temple last-second 66-64 victory at SMU on Wednesday that snapped a five-game losing streak. The Owls needed to stop the bleeding and senior guard Josh Brown did just that, delivering the game-winner with 1.5 seconds left. It marked Temple's first AAC win of the season and could serve as a springboard with four of the Owls' next five conference games being played in the familiar confines of the Liacouras Center.
 
We'll find out if the Owls can harness any momentum Saturday afternoon against Memphis. The Tigers are a team Temple needs to beat if they have any designs of turning their season around. More consistent performances from Quinton Rose would go a long way in helping the Owls find their way. Rose erupted for 23 points against SMU after scoring four points combined in Temple's previous two games.
 
I'm not ready to give up on Temple just yet. I have faith in Fran Dunphy coaxing some more steady efforts from his team. Look for the Owls to collect a second straight win against Memphis on Saturday. 
 
Temple 68, Memphis 62
 
La Salle (7-10, 1-3 A-10) at Duquesne (12-5, 3-1), Saturday at 12:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network
AF
: The Explorers are struggling right now at the start of conference play, having just dropped their third straight with an overtime loss to UMass. However, in that span, they’ve had the services of the A-10’s leading scorer B.J. Johnson only once. The senior only played in the loss to VCU but not against Rhode Island or the Minutemen.
 
La Salle is hoping Johnson is back for their road game this weekend against the surprising Dukes. Duquesne was picked dead last in the conference preseason poll but are currently sitting in second in the standings right behind Rhode Island. A big reason for their success is Rene Castro-Caneddy, the graduate student who nearly transferred after riding the bench for two seasons. But first-year head coach Keith Dambrot is glad the 24-year-old stayed. Castro-Caneddy has started every game this season, averaging a career-high 13.6 and racking up a team-best 56 assists. He’s reached double-figures in all four conference games, all but one of them a win.
 
Duquesne has an eight-game winning streak at home. It’s hard to pick against that, especially if Johnson is out for La Salle.
 
Duquesne 74, La Salle 70
 
Hofstra (10-7, 3-2 CAA) at Drexel (7-11, 1-4), Saturday at 4 p.m.
SK
: After finishing with a 9-23 record in Zach Spiker's first year as head coach, Drexel has shown occasional signs of improvement this season. That growth was plain to see during last Friday's surprising win at College of Charleston. The Dragons failed to build on that victory, dropping their last two games against William & Mary and Delaware.
 
Drexel is a balanced offensive team that has been bolstered by the play of junior guard Tramaine Isabell, a transfer from Missouri who is averaging a team-high 18.2 points per game. The Dragons have shown the ability to score, it's their effort on the defensive end that's been questionable. They're allowing an average of 87 points in the last five games. 
 
I expect an inspired effort from the Dragons but I can't see them getting enough stops to pull out the win.
 
Hofstra 76, Drexel 70
 
Prediction records
Sean Kane: 13-7
Amy Fadool: 8-13

Alabama reclaims national title with epic OT comeback

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Alabama reclaims national title with epic OT comeback

ATLANTA -- To add another championship to the greatest dynasty college football has ever seen, Alabama turned to its quarterback of the future, and Tua Tagovailoa proved that his time is now.

The freshman quarterback, who had played mostly mop-up duty this season, came off the bench to spark a comeback and threw a 41-yard touchdown to DeVonta Smith that gave No. 4 Alabama a 26-23 overtime victory against No. 3 Georgia on Monday night for the College Football Playoff national championship.

Tagovailoa entered the game at halftime, replacing a struggling Jalen Hurts, and threw three touchdown passes to give the Crimson Tide its fifth national championship since 2009 under coach Nick Saban.

"He just stepped in and did his thing," Hurts said. "He's built for stuff like this. I'm so happy for him." The Tide might have a quarterback controversy ahead of them, but first Alabama will celebrate another national title.

For the third straight season, Alabama played in a classic CFP final. The Tide split two with Clemson, losing last season on touchdown with a second left.

What was Saban thinking as the winning pass soared?

"I could not believe it," he said. "There's lots of highs and lows. Last year we lost on the last play of the game and this year we won on the last play of the game. These kids really responded the right way. We said last year, `Don't waste the feeling.' They sure didn't, the way they played tonight."

Smith streaked into the end zone and moments later confetti rained and even Saban seemed almost giddy after watching maybe the most improbably victory of his unmatched career.

After Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos missed a 36-yard field goal that would have won it for the Tide (13-1) in the final seconds of regulation, Georgia (13-2) took the lead with a 51-yard field goal from Rodrigo Blankenship in overtime.

Tagovailoa took a terrible sack on Alabama's first play of overtime, losing 16 yards. On the next play he found Smith, another freshman, and hit him in stride for the national championship.

This game will be remembered for Saban's decision to change quarterbacks trailing 13-0.

"I just thought we had to throw the ball, and I felt he could do it better, and he did," Saban said. "He did a good job, made some plays in the passing game. Just a great win. I'm so happy for Alabama fans. Great for our players. Unbelievable."

Saban now has six major poll national championships, including one at LSU, matching the record set by the man who led Alabama's last dynasty, coach Paul Bear Bryant.

This one was nothing like the others.

The all-Southeastern Conference matchup was all Georgia in the first half before Saban pulled Hurts and went with the five-star recruit from Hawaii.

The Tide trailed 20-7 in the third quarter after Georgia's freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, hit Mecole Hardman for an 80-yard touchdown pass that had the Georgia fans feeling good about ending a national title drought that dates back to 1980.

A little less than a year after the Atlanta Falcons blew a 25-point lead and lost in overtime to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, there was more pain for many of the local fans. Two years ago, Georgia brought in Saban's top lieutenant, Kirby Smart, to coach the Bulldogs and bring to his alma mater a dose of Alabama's Process.

Smart, who spent 11 seasons with Saban, eight as his defensive coordinator, quickly built Alabama East. It was Georgia that won the SEC this season. Alabama had to slip into the playoff without even winning its own division.

With the title game being held 70 miles from Georgia's campus in Athens, Dawg fans packed Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but it turned out to be sweet home for Alabama.

But not without angst.

Alabama drove into the red zone in the final minute and Saban started playing for a field goal that would end the game and win it for the Tide. A nervous quiet gripped the crowd of 77,430 as `Bama burned the clock. With the ball centered in the middle of the field, Pappanastos lined up for a kick to win the national championship. The snap and hold looked fine, but the kicked missed badly to the left.

For the second straight week, Georgia was going to overtime. The Bulldogs beat Oklahoma in a wild Rose Bowl in double overtime to get here, and after Jonathan Ledbetter and Davin Bellamy sacked Tagovailoa for a big loss on the first play, Alabama was in trouble -- second-and-26.

Not for long. Tagovailoa looked off the safety threw the biggest touchdown pass in the history of Alabama football.