No. 1 Villanova-Temple observations: Jalen Brunson tortures Owls again

USA Today Images

No. 1 Villanova-Temple observations: Jalen Brunson tortures Owls again


For the third straight season, Big 5 blood rivals Villanova and Temple met with the Wildcats holding the No. 1 ranking in all the land.

And for the third straight season, the team from the Main Line showed just why it’s earned that distinction at the Owls’ expense.

Junior preseason All-American Jalen Brunson starred with a sparkling 31-point performance and redshirt freshman big man Omari Spellman wasn’t far behind with 27 of his own (and eight boards) as the duo led Villanova to a thorough 87-67 pasting of Temple at the Liacouras Center on Wednesday night.

Jay Wright’s Wildcats improved to 11-0 on the season while Fran Dunphy’s Owls fell to 6-3.

In the last three meetings between the squads, Villanova has outscored Temple by a 248-193 margin.

Best team in the city. Best team in the country.

• The Owls didn’t do themselves any favors out of the gate as they dug themselves a hole by starting 1 of 12 from the field, including some ugly offerings from three-point land. In the meantime, Brunson asserted dominance with 10 points in a 1:57 span as the ‘Cats jumped to a 20-5 advantage. In that span, Brunson put an Owl in the spin cycle with a spectacular spinning drive and finish. And for the cherry on top, the star junior drilled two straight treys. If anything, Brunson staked his claim to legitimately be in the National Player of the Year conversation on this night.

• Brunson was so good, here’s another observation about him: he just has a thing for sticking it to Dunphy and the Owls, whom were hot and heavy on his recruiting trail. In the spring of 2015, Brunson, then a five-star recruit out of Lincolnshire, Illinois, was choosing between Temple, Villanova and Illinois. Brunson is a Temple legacy as his father and former NBA player Rick starred under John Chaney. But he eventually signed with Villanova. In three games against his father’s alma mater, Brunson has accounted for 69 points on 23 of 33 from the field, including 13 of 20 from downtown.

• How about Spellman? Here’s about him: he was awesome on Wednesday, doing it all over the court, hitting all seven of his attempts inside the arc and then drilling four more out of it. The 6-foot-9 forward has brilliant touch on his jumper as he entered a 43 percent three-point shooter. And that number only improved after torching the Owls for 27. He’s a matchup nightmare, perhaps like no other Wright has ever had at Villanova. That’s a scary thought.

• Temple’s defeat was certainly no fault of sophomore guard Quinton Rose, Temple’s leading scorer entering the game with 17.3 points per contest. With the Owls in a huge first-half hole, Rose got things cooking with three straight three-pointers that ignited a 13-0 run and cut a 20-point lead to just seven. But that’s as close as Temple would get. But still, Rose was a huge bright spot for Temple with a team-high 27 points on 9 for 12 shooting, including 5 of 6 from downtown.

• One night after helping lead the the Sixers to an OT victory in Minnesota, Ben Simmons was back on the court ... in his courtside seat taking in the action at the Liacouras Center next to former Temple star Dionte Christmas. Simmons’ head coach, Brett Brown, was also in attendance. A few seats to the left of Simmons, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney experienced the Big 5 rivalry up close.

• A quiet night for star and NBA draft prospect Mikal Bridges. The 6-7 uber-athlete, who entered the contest as Villanova’s leading scorer with 18.1 points per night, had just seven points on 3 for 10 shooting. Yes, Brunson and Spellman ran the show on Wednesday, but Bridges wasn’t his noticeable self. A far cry from the Gonzaga game at MSG last week when he dominated the ranked Zags at every turn. But the fact the ‘Cats dominated the way they did against a solid, talented Temple team is a testament to their depth. Even if one of the stars has off night like Bridges did Wednesday, there are still so many playmakers Wright can lean on. That depth, which the ‘Cats were lacking overall last season, makes Villanova as dangerous as ever. Think about that.

• An even quieter night for versatile Temple senior forward Obi Enechionyia. In fact, barely a peep. Poor shooting and a strong Villanova defensive effort contributed to that as the senior had just three points on 1 for 7 from the field. Temple needs more from him. Heard in the crowd after Enechionyia missed a free throw in the second half: “That’s why he’s at Temple and not Villanova.”

• The victory extended Villanova’s record Big 5 winning streak to 22 games. The last time the ‘Cats lost a Big 5 game was on Dec. 5, 2012, when Scootie Randall dropped 21 points to lead Temple to a 76-61 triumph at the Pavilion. Eleven of the last 12 wins in the streak have come by at least 10 points, the only exception being Sunday’s 77-68 decision over La Salle. Ladies and gents, that’s called domination.

• Villanova is back in action next Thursday with a visit to Nassau Coliseum to face Hofstra, Wright’s former school where he coached from 1994-2001. Temple stays in the City 6 to host Drexel this Saturday.

Penn State holds off Marquette to reach NIT semifinals

USA Today Images

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.