Omari Spellman

A super Sunday for No. 1 Villanova, too

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AP Images

A super Sunday for No. 1 Villanova, too

BOX SCORE 

Villanova turned the site of its latest romp into the scene of a Super Bowl pep rally.

The final horn caused a celebration -- not just because the Wildcats won, but to signal the certain Eagles bash ahead.

Omari Spellman hit six 3 pointers and had 26 points, 11 rebounds and helped No. 1 Villanova kick off a rousing day in Philadelphia sports with a 92-76 win over Seton Hall on Sunday.

The Wildcats (22-1, 9-1 Big East) won their ninth straight game in front of a crowd dotted with green jerseys and chanting for the Eagles hours before the Super Bowl.

"I love the Eagles," Villanova coach Jay Wright said, "but this is way more important to me."

Villanova's win served as the sports appetizer for a city absolutely whipped into a frenzy, with fans lined up hours before kickoff around the block to get into sports bars to watch the Eagles play the New England Patriots.

Mikal Bridges, who scored 17 points, hit a 3 with 2:22 left for a 21-point lead that seemed to serve as the cue for fans to turn their full attention toward the Super Bowl. They put on dog masks (an Eagles rallying symbol) and chanted "We Want Brady!"

For about 25 minutes, the Pirates (17-6, 6-4) served the Wildcats a serious scare.

Villanova's Eric Paschall slammed into the court with such a thump it could be heard way up high and subbed out for a quick breather on the bench. Paschall's timeout was brief. He hit a 3 that tied the game at 48-all.

Jalen Brunson, a top candidate for national player of the year, followed with another 3 that snapped a tie game and served as the offensive flare that Nova was set for its usual decisive run.

It was that time.

Paschall dunked on the next possession and Bridges came flying out of nowhere down the baseline to put back a missed shot that sent the roaring crowd to their feet in appreciation.

Khadeen Carrington, who averages 14.2 points, was whistled for his fourth foul just 6 minutes into the half and Bridges blocked a shot that sent the ball soaring over Seton Hall's bench.

Myles Powell steadied the Pirates with a pair of 3s that kept pulled them to 62-60. Spellman hit a 3 and Bridges nailed a three-point play to help the Wildcats start to pull away. Powell hit one more 3 that gave Seton Hall a feint glimmer of hope but that's about all teams get these days against Nova.

"You've got to almost play perfect when you play Villanova on the road," Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said.

Seton Hall was one underdog Philly had no interest in rooting for an upset.

The "Good Luck, Philadelphia Eagles!" sign flashed on the big screen as fans belted out "Fly, Eagles, Fly!" at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Pirates played the first half like the team that spent most of the season in the AP Top 25 and reached as high as No. 13. Seton Hall shot 49 percent from the floor and Angel Delgado hurt Villanova inside with 10 points and six rebounds. Delgado finished with 18 points and Desi Rodriguez had 20.

Seton Hall and Butler have been the only thorns in Villanova's Big East side since the conference was reconfigured in 2013. Each team had defeated Villanova three times -- or, six of the program's 12 losses over that span.

Spellman hit three 3s in the first half and scored 15 points to give the Wildcats a 41-37 lead at the break. He has brushed aside the sting of sitting out last season because of eligibility issues,

"It was just hard for me because I wanted to help my teammates win," Spellman said. "I just really wanted to be there on game day. I was there for them, just not in the same way."

Spellman has a smooth stroke from the perimeter for a 6-foot-8, 240-pound forward, the kind of frame usually reserved for banging under the boards, not sinking 3s like Steph Curry.

"I've never had somebody as complete as that with size and strength," Wright said.

Big picture
Seton Hall fell to 3-2 this season against Top 25 teams.

Wright, an Eagles season-ticket holder, had said this week he planned to watch the Super Bowl in downtown and enjoy the experience with the rest of the city. The Wildcats were the last area team to win a major championship when they won the 2016 national title.

His prediction: Eagles over Patriots 27-24.

Double technical
Powell shoulder bumped Donte DiVincenzo then shoved him in the chest late in the second half. Both players were whistled for technical fouls.

Up next
Seton Hall hosts Marquette on Wednesday.

Coming off a startling win over No. 4 Duke, St. John's plays Wednesday at Villanova. 

No. 1 Villanova sets school record ... again

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USA Today Images

No. 1 Villanova sets school record ... again

BOX SCORE

The No. 1 team in the nation continued to show why it’s the No. 1 team in the nation.

Led by 21 points from Mikal Bridges and 19 from Jalen Brunson, top-ranked Villanova rolled to a 98-78 Big East win over a good Creighton squad on Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Wildcats (21-1 overall, 8-1 Big East) have now won eight straight following their only loss of the season, a 101-93 setback at Butler on Dec. 30. 

Marcus Foster had a team-high 20 points for Creighton (17-6, 7-4).

• Head coach Jay Wright has been stressing defense in recent weeks but this team just keeps putting on offensive shows. In threatening to score 100 points for the fifth time this season, the Wildcats shot a whopping 54.5 percent from the field and 48.7 percent from three-point range with all five starters hitting double figures. In addition to Bridges and Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo had 17, Omari Spellman 14 and Eric Paschall 11.

• Villanova made 19 three-pointers, which ties the school record that was set earlier this season in a win over St. Joe’s on Dec. 2. 

• Unlike some teams who get rattled or scared vs. ’Nova, Creighton actually seemed up for this game from the start, taking leads of 6-3 and 8-6 before the first media timeout. It’s a testament to Villanova’s relentlessness for not only quickly retaking the lead but also never letting the Bluejays sniff the lead again.

• Villanova showed its three-point touch early in a cool way as four different players hit threes for the team’s first 12 points, including big men Spellman and Paschall.

• Spellman kept hitting threes, shooting 4 for 7 from distance for the game. That’s such a nice advantage when a 6-foot-8, 260-pound player can do that.

• Brunson showed again why he’s a national player of the year candidate. Fresh off a carer-high 31 points in Saturday’s 85-82 win at Marquette, the junior point guard came through with some big shots in the first half, including a four-point play that gave the Wildcats a commanding 40-22 edge. He also scored five points in a row after Creighton tied it up at 18-18 and had 17 points before the break.

• Although Brunson didn’t score as much in the second half, he had a rebound in traffic over 6-foot-11 center Jacob Epperson, got hit, and then threw it off Epperson while falling out of bounds. In many ways, it was a play that epitomizes Brunson, who Xavier coach Chris Mack recently said probably has “wires coming out” of his face.

• Bridges, who looks more and more like a lottery pick every day, is just so smooth when he pulls up for a jumper off the dribble. And his athletic drive late in the first half helped ’Nova take a 49-34 lead into halftime, from which Creighton would never recover.

• The bench play without Phil Booth (fractured bone in right hand) will likely be a concern as the Wildcats roll into March. But freshmen Collin Gillespie (eight points) and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (six points) did a lot of good things as the only two guys Wright brought in off the bench. Gillespie hit a couple of threes and had five assists. And in one quick spurt in the second half, Cosby-Roundtree had a block, an offensive rebound and a defensive rebound (though he did miss a close-range shot). 

• One example of how much the Wildcats were clicking on offense: they had 13 assists on 19 field goals in the first half.

• The media members got a special visit from Creighton’s Toby Hegner, who crashed into press row in the first half. Only a cup of soda was injured in the fray.

• Some of the biggest cheers in the game came when Villanova’s walk-ons got some nice run in the final two minutes and senior Matt Kennedy hit a basket in the lane.

• This is the sixth consecutive season, and the 13th time in the past 14 years, that Villanova has recorded 20 or more victories in a season. Thursday’s win was their 150th, against only 18 losses, since the start of the 2013-14 season. That’s, um, really good.

• Wright won his 407th game at Villanova, moving to within six of the program’s all-time wins leader, Alexander Severance.

• Interestingly enough, Creighton’s last trip to the Wells Fargo Center produced a stunning 96-68 rout of then-No. 4 Villanova. Led by Ethan Wragge and Doug McDermott, the Bluejays went 9 for 9 on three-pointers on their first nine possessions and finished with a school-record 21 for the game.

• This is a big week for Villanova, which returns to the Wells Fargo Center to host Seton Hall at noon on Super Bowl Sunday. Along with Xavier, Seton Hall and Creighton are probably the only teams with a real shot of knocking Villanova off its Big East perch.

• The Wildcats then stay home to face last-place St. John’s and Butler to round out a four-game homestand.

Villanova receives the gift of another No. 1 ranking

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AP Images

Villanova receives the gift of another No. 1 ranking

The gift Villanova received on Christmas Day was one the Wildcats expected, but also the one they wanted most.

For the third straight week, head coach Jay Wright's 'Cats came in at No. 1 in the AP Poll. This after a quiet week that included just one game, a 95-71 rout of Hofstra at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island Friday night. In what was Wright's return to where he coached from 1994-2001 before coming to the Main Line, Omari Spellman starred with 19 points in 31 minutes. 

Things will begin to get more challenging for the Wildcats this week as Big East play begins Wednesday evening with a trip to DePaul. Then comes a visit Saturday to Hinkle Fieldhouse to face Butler, which handed the 'Cats their first loss of the season there last year.

Looking further ahead, a mammoth showdown with Xavier looms Wednesday, Jan. 10 at Wells Fargo Center. The conference rival Musketeers came in at No. 6 in this week's poll.

As for the rest of the top five, Michigan State held steady at No. 2, ditto for Arizona State at No. 3 and Duke at No. 4 while Texas A&M jumped to No. 5.

To view the rest of this week's poll, click here.