Strong bench play powers No. 3 Villanova past St. John's

Strong bench play powers No. 3 Villanova past St. John's

NEW YORK – Nobody can say the Wildcats don’t have a bench after this game.
For most of the day, that’s all they had.
With the starters sputtering and No. 3 Villanova in danger of losing at to a St. John’s team with a losing record, reserves Donte DiVincenzo and Eric Paschall came off the bench and combined to make 11 of 16 shots for 28 points to go with seven rebounds as the sloppy Wildcats held off scrappy St. John’s 70-57 at Madison Square Garden (see instant replay). 
With senior superstars Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins combining to shoot 5 of 23 overall and 3 of 13 from three, DiVincenzo shot 7 for 10 from the field and 3 for 5 from three for a career-high 19 points, and Paschall made 4 of 6 shots for nine points.
Villanova’s five starters combined for 13 baskets (on 37 shots), DiVincenzo, a red-shirt freshman, and Paschall, a red-shirt sophomore, combined for 11 baskets (on 16 shots).
“We all want to set a tone and start the game off, and when we don’t do that, it’s comforting to know that we have Eric, we have 'Tay (DiVincenzo), two guys who could start in a lot of programs, coming off the bench, bringing incredible energy,” Hart said.
“That’s something we always know we have and something that makes the team what it is. When the seniors are slipping up and we’re not playing Villanova basketball and not playing the way we should be playing, we know the young guys are going to step up and bring us energy and get us going.”
St. John’s, a young and inexperienced team in its second year under Chris Mullin, scored the game’s first six points and led most of the first half while it looked like the defending national champs were sleepwalking.
“A hundred percent we didn’t bring it, and that’s on the three seniors, Kris, Darryl and myself,” Hart said. “We have to set a tone. We have to be examples for these guys, and that’s something that we didn’t do.
“'Tay and Eric came off the bench and brought energy, but that’s something that we can’t have continue, especially going down the stretch. We have to find it within ourselves to be committed to Villanova basketball and bring it from the start for 40 minutes, and that’s something we didn’t do today.”
With St. John’s leading by six late in the first half, it was DiVincenzo who scored eight points in four minutes to spark a 19-7 run to close out the first half and give the Wildcats the lead for good.
But this was still a five-point game at 53-48 with 6 and a half minutes left before Villanova finally pulled away and built the lead as large as 17.
“That was an example of a young, hungry team just playing harder than a veteran team and wanting it a little more,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said.
“They just took it to us. Disappointed in our effort and impressed with St. John’s impressiveness and tenacity … and we didn’t respond. They’re just young. They’re going to be good. I hope we can learn from this and play better.” 
This was the first time in Villanova’s last 33 games that neither Hart nor Jenkins scored 12 points. Last time it happened? St. John’s at the Garden a year ago.
But that team had Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, who bailed out Jenkins and Hart with 38 points.
This team does not have that kind of depth.
At least, they didn’t until now.
“'Tay played 31 minutes, Eric played 26 minutes – they’re playing starter minutes,” Hart said.
“They brought it every day in practice last year when they weren’t able to get out there and play for us, and this year they’re doing it in practice but they’re also doing it in games now.
“Those two guys aren’t looked at anybody in this program as bench players., They’re looked at as guys we rely on and guys who have big roles, and it’s good to see them bring energy and get us going.”
DiVincenzo took a red-shirt year after breaking his foot eight games into last season. Paschall red-shirted in 2016 after transferring in from Fordham, where he was Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year in 2015.
DiVincenzo’s previous career high was 13 points against Central Florida and Penn. Paschall scored as many as 31 points in a game at Fordam, but his previous Big East high was eight points at Creighton.
For both to record Big East career scoring highs at Madison Square Garden in a game where the 'Nova starters were uncharacteristically ineffective is definitely an encouraging sign for the Wildcats.

When Villanova needed them, they showed up in a big way.
“Donte, no one on our team is surprised by that, but it’s good that other teams see that and it’s good that he’s doing it in games, on the road,” Wright said. “Getting Eric going is important for us.
“Kris and Josh and Jalen (Brunson) have been in so many games and they’ve carried us so many times that we know we got that. But the next thing that those guys have to learn is that some nights, when teams try to take them out of it, they’ve got to make plays for their teammates. And Josh has done that a lot. We’ve just got to get the other guys doing it.”
Villanova is now 17-1 overall and 5-1 in the Big East. The Wildcats have now won three straight games since their only loss of the year, at Butler on Jan. 4. They’re 35-3 in their last 38 games and a Division 1-best 114-14 in four years with Hart and Jenkins on the floor.
With its fourth straight loss, St. John’s fell to 8-11 overall and 2-4 in the Big East.
Thanks in large part to the only two guys who played Saturday who weren’t part of last year’s championship run.
“I think we’re a good team now, but I think we could be a great team if we all play that way,” Hart said.
“Seniors set the tone and start the game and then we have guys come off the bench and there’s no dropoff. So we’re happy we have those guys, we just have to get everyone to bring that energy from the start.”

Villanova set to renew old-school rivalry with UConn

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Villanova set to renew old-school rivalry with UConn

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. 1 Villanova (17-1, 5-1 Big East) at Connecticut (10-8, 3-3 AAC), Saturday, 12:00 p.m.
Villanova and UConn renew an old-school Big East rivalry on Saturday afternoon, the first meeting of a three-game series that extends to the 2019-2020 season. The two teams have not met since the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament when the Huskies upset the Wildcats en route to a national championship.

While top-ranked Villanova has flourished in the revamped Big East, UConn's basketball program has become somewhat of an afterthought the past three years in the AAC under Kevin Ollie. The Huskies finished with a 16-17 record a year ago and are a middling 10-8 this season. UConn enters Saturday's matchup fresh off a 24-point loss at Memphis on Tuesday.

Villanova, meanwhile, is coming off arguably its most impressive performance of the season an 88-56 drubbing of Georgetown on Wednesday. The Wildcats dominated the Hoyas in their own building from start to finish, leading by as many as 44 points in the second half. Jalen Brunson finished with 18 points to lead six different Villanova players in double figures. They shot a collective 60 percent from the field and 51 percent from three-point range. 

Sophomore sixth man Donte DiVincenzo continued his torrid pace with 13 points on 6 of 9 shooting from the field. DiVincenzo's performance came on the heels of his career-high 25-point outburst at St. John's last weekend, a game in which he connected on six three-point field goals. The fact that DiVincenzo isn't in the starting lineup speaks to the strength of the Villanova program. It's not an exaggeration to say that DiVincenzo would start for 98 percent of the teams in the country.

Villanova's improvement defensively is a welcomed sight for Jay Wright. After allowing an average of 92 points in their first three conference games, the Wildcats have clamped down considerably on the defensive end — surrendering an average of just 64 points in their last three games. Look for that defensive resurgence to continue on Saturday against UConn, a team that has struggled to score as of late.

Villanova 79, UConn 65

Temple (9-9, 2-5 AAC) at Pennsylvania (12-5, 3-0 Ivy), Saturday, 2:00 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia
 This is always one of my favorite games to write about because of the connections between the two schools. Steven Donahue coached at Penn under Fran Dunphy, who enjoyed a lot of success as the Quakers head coach.

Before I get to the success that Penn has enjoyed this season, I have to discuss the Owls' string of recent heartbreak.

They’ve only won two of their last six games. But here’s the rub; if you throw out the loss to UCF, which I’m sure Coach Dunphy would appreciate, Temple has had those remaining five games decided by a combined 11 points. One basket, that could have been the deciding factor in turning one or more of those losses into wins.

So up next, a tough test at the Palestra, Dunphy’s old stomping grounds. Penn is off to its best start to a season since, you guessed it, Fran Dunphy was the coach. Just like back in the 2002-2003 season, the Quakers are also 12-5 at this point. That year, Penn went undefeated in Ivy play. So far this season, Penn is undefeated in Ivy play.

Yes, they have a long way to go in order to stay that way, but the Quakers are looking like the team to beat right now in the Ivy League. A.J. Brodeur is coming off his best game of the season, a 30-point effort with six three-pointers in the win over Columbia. Penn has two Big Five matchups before continuing league play in February, Temple then St. Joseph’s.

This weekend I think Penn keeps the good times rolling and the former assistant gets the best of his mentor.

Penn 72, Temple 70

Fordham (6-12, 1-5 A-10) at St. Joseph's (8-9, 3-3 A-10), Saturday, 1:00 p.m.
St. Joseph's rebounded from a pair of agonizing losses to George Mason and UMass to defeat Dayton, 81-65, on Wednesday. The Hawks are currently 3-3 in A-10 play but could easily be 5-1 if those heartbreaking losses turned out differently, which they easily could have.

The senior duo of James Demery and Shavar Newkirk combined for 36 points in the win over Dayton, while freshman forward Taylor Funk added 18 points and six rebounds. Then there's sophomore Pierfrancesco Oliva, who recorded a bizarre but beneficial stat line of 0 points and 15 rebounds.

St. Joseph's should be able to build on the momentum of Wednesday's win against Fordham on Saturday. The Rams have lost four straight games and six of their last seven, generally not showing much fight in the process. Expect the Hawks to set the tone early and cruise to a second straight victory.

St. Joe's 74, Fordham 59

La Salle (8-11, 2-4 A-10) at Richmond (5-13, 3-3 A-10), Saturday, 2:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network
Before I get to how this matchup of struggling A-10 teams will play out, a salute to Dr. John Giannini.

The La Salle head coach recorded his 500th career win with the Explorers' 75-67 victory over Fordham on Wednesday. Giannini has endured his share of ups and downs during his 14-year tenure at La Salle. But the bottom line remains; he's done an admirable job in less than ideal circumstances. Any realistic La Salle fan will admit that recruiting is a challenge, something Giannini has dealt with by pursuing a number of transfers in recent years. In most cases, these transfers are Philadelphia kids who are looking for more playing time — guys like B.J. Johnson, Tyrone Garland and Ramon Galloway. It's a formula that helped Giannini take La Salle to the Sweet 16 in 2013 with Galloway and Garland playing key roles.

On occasion, you'll hear or see La Salle fans on social media calling for a coaching change. I don't understand that logic. I continue to believe Giannini is a good fit at La Salle and he deserves the opportunity to get the program back to where it was five years ago.

As for this Saturday's visit to Richmond, it will be a challenge for the Explorers. The Spiders are down this season but have found their footing over the last week with wins over George Washington and VCU. I expect Richmond to make it three straight wins at La Salle's expense this weekend.

Richmond 70, La Salle 65

Drexel (7-13, 1-6 CAA) at James Madison (5-13, 1-6 A-10), Saturday, 4:00 p.m.
 After picking up a marquee win over the College of Charleston two weeks ago — which was also their first conference win — the Dragons have hit a serious slump and dropped four straight games.

Zach Spiker’s squad is certainly struggling with scoring, but perhaps more importantly, is getting beat on the glass, sometimes almost two to one by their opponents. And any coach will tell you second-chance points are a real killer, not only to the momentum of the game but also for team morale.

In Drexel’s most recent loss, falling 90-68 at Towson, the rebounding differential was 46-25 in the Tigers' favor. It could be a problem for the Dragons this weekend against James Madison.

The Dukes are coming off a marquee win of their own, when they beat Elon in overtime Thursday night. They erased a 10-point deficit in the final 90 seconds to take down the Phoenix, which also was their first CAA win.

A player of note in this one, JMU’s Stuckey Mosley is averaging 19.5 points and one of four Dukes who average double figures. Neither team is going to contend for the CAA this year, but both have shown flashes. The road has not been kind to the Dragons.

I hesitate to pick against them because they win when I predict a loss, and lose when I predict a win. So I’ll go a little reverse psychology and say that they will win ... and I really mean lose.

JMU 78, Drexel 75

Prediction Records
Sean Kane:
Amy Fadool: 12-13

No. 1 Villanova hands Georgetown worst loss in decades

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No. 1 Villanova hands Georgetown worst loss in decades


WASHINGTON -- After watching Villanova make 3-pointer after 3-pointer and build a hard-to-fathom lead -- 20, then 30, eventually all the way up to 44 -- Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing did not want to offer any sort of assessment about what this game indicates about his team's status in relation to the No. 1 Wildcats.


"I'm not even thinking about that," Ewing said. "All I'm thinking about is that they're a good team and tonight was their night. That's it."

Wright and Villanova gave Ewing a rude welcome back to the schools' rivalry, handing the Hoyas their worst loss in more than 40 years, 88-56 on Wednesday night.

"I've had my butt kicked before -- fortunately it was as a player -- and all I can do is get ready for the next one," Ewing said. "You can't dwell on it. Just got to look at the film and make adjustments and get ready for the next game."

Jalen Brunson led the way with 18 points and seven assists for Villanova (17-1, 5-1 Big East), which finished 17 for 33 on 3s, while Georgetown went 4 for 15.

Mikal Bridges scored 17 for the Wildcats, winners of seven consecutive games against the Hoyas, Villanova's longest streak in a series that dates to 1922.

"I'm just happy to be on this side of it. I've been on the other side. I feel for those guys, because we've been there," Villanova coach Jay Wright said.

"Patrick's doing a great job with this program. They're very organized. They know what they want to do," Wright said. "And he's going to build this thing."

The last time Ewing faced Villanova in any capacity was in the last game of his college playing career at Georgetown, a surprising 66-64 victory for the underdog Wildcats in the 1985 NCAA championship game. It was quite clear, quite quickly, on Wednesday that there would be no such tight outcome --nor any chance of an upset by Georgetown (12-6, 2-5).

Villanova went on an 18-0 tear to go ahead 31-8 and that was that for any semblance of drama.

"This is our first game where we were just blown out from the beginning," said Jessie Govan, who led the Hoyas with 12 points.

Aided by a 1-2-2 press that Brunson said he thought "may have got to them a little bit," Villanova led 42-20 at halftime. Until then, Georgetown had more turnovers (nine) than made baskets, shooting 8 for 26, including 0 for 8 on 3s.

Asked about the 18-point run, Ewing replied: "I don't even remember."

This is his first season as a head coach at any level, and he opted to go with an easy-as-can-be non-conference schedule to try to build his players' confidence. Now that league play is underway, especially against a foe like Villanova, the gap between the Hoyas and the best teams is obvious.

Villanova just kept pushing the margin after the break, going up by 30, then 40, and then reaching the apex at 88-44 on a layup by Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree with about 3 minutes remaining. Less than a minute later, Wright finally sent on the subs and pulled any remaining starters.

"It's always fun," Brunson said, "when our team's making shots."

Big picture
Villanova: Since its only loss, 101-93 at Butler on Dec. 30, Villanova has won four games in a row, propelled by an efficient offense that gets a lot of its work done from beyond the arc.

Georgetown: This was the Hoyas' largest margin of defeat since a 33-point loss to Maryland, 104-71, on Dec. 10, 1974.

Injured and ill
Villanova: Collin Gillespie returned from a broken hand and had two points, three rebounds and two assists in 15 minutes. ... Reserves Tim Delaney and Jermaine Samuels sat out with a virus.

Georgetown: Backup PG Trey Dickerson left in the first half with a back spasm and did not return.

Up next
Villanova: Travels to UConn on Saturday in a matchup between former Big East rivals and the Wildcats' first game at Hartford in five years. Villanova is 12-0 in non-conference games heading into the last one on their schedule.

Georgetown: Hosts St. John's on Saturday, the teams' second meeting in less than two weeks. The Hoyas won 69-66 at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 9.