Villanova Wildcats

Villanova star safety Rob Rolle ready to prove Temple wrong after being passed over

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Villanova star safety Rob Rolle ready to prove Temple wrong after being passed over

Rob Rolle was feeling good at the one-day prospect camp held at Temple University between his junior and senior years of high school.

The Delsea High (N.J.) standout looked sharp and was encouraged that he did enough to convince the Temple coaches that he deserved a scholarship. 

But then …. 

“I remember they were pretty close to offering me and at the end of the camp they told me they were gonna take another look at me throughout my senior year,” Rolle said. “I put that as a chip on my shoulder that they didn’t have faith in me like other schools did.”

Rolle ended up accepting an offer from nearby Villanova and, for the first time in his college career, will get a chance to face Temple as the Wildcats and Owls collide Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field (3:30 p.m, ESPN3).

“Going into this game,” the senior safety said, “I’m gonna prove I very much deserve to be on the field with those boys.

“When I didn’t get the offer, it was like, ‘Alright, they passed on me, so I gotta go prove them wrong.’”

Rolle, a preseason All-American and one of the Wildcats’ captains, has more reasons to feel extra motivation heading into Saturday’s showdown.

Growing up in South Jersey, he played against a few Temple players, including senior wide receiver Adonis Jennings, senior defensive back Sean Chandler and redshirt sophomore defensive back Kareem Ali. 

But he says he hasn’t been doing much trash talk with those guys leading up to the contest. Instead, he’s been in the ear of his current teammates, imploring them not to be intimidated playing up a level against an FBS program.

“I’m fully going into this game expecting to win, as I’m sure they are,” said Rolle, who led the FCS with seven interceptions last season. “The key is getting guys on my team as prepared as possible and making sure they have the same mindset.”

While Temple will be a significant favorite, Rolle’s confidence is not unwarranted. Villanova — an FCS power that opened its 2017 campaign under first-year head coach Mark Ferrante with a 38-35 win over Lehigh last week — has kept it close vs. FBS schools in the past, losing by a combined six points in losses to UConn and Syracuse in Rolle’s first two seasons.

And although Villanova was blown out by Temple in their last two meetings in 2011 and 2012, the Wildcats actually won the game in 2009, 27-24, and lost by one score in 2010, 31-24.

“Temple is a great program and we know they’re coming off back-to-back 10-win seasons, so we’re not knocking them,” Rolle said. “But we’re a pretty solid team in FCS play and we play in the toughest league in 1-AA. We see teams from our league play big FBS teams and give them a run for their money. We know the talent our league has, and we know we can take care of business. 

“We’ll be fighting against a greater depth chart but if we bring our ‘A’ game, if we play physical and show up, we’ll be right in the ballgame.”

While playing against some old South Jersey guys may give it the feel “of a high school game,” the venue certainly will not, as Rolle is fired up to play inside the Linc for the first time. 

He’s been to games there before, though, cheering on former Villanova teammate and fellow South Jersey native Austin Medley during past Temple-Villanova Mayor’s Cup contests.

Now, the star playmaker who had two defensive touchdowns last year is trying to picture stepping on the field and making a big defensive play inside the pro football stadium, against the team that almost wanted him, for the team that helped develop him into a star.

“That’s something we really like,” Rolle said of playing at the Linc. “I prefer that to playing at home any day. I don’t care if it’s on the road or not. I just like playing in front of that many people.”

“We’re really pumped,” he added. “We try to take each week as it is but I’d be lying to you if I said we weren’t a little more hyped to play a hometown rival.”

Villanova falters late in stunning upset

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Villanova falters late in stunning upset

BOX SCORE 

OMAHA, Neb. — A Creighton season that was beginning to head in the wrong direction righted itself in glorious fashion for at least one afternoon.

The Bluejays came into their game against No. 3 Villanova on Saturday having lost three straight in the Big East. Starting forward Ronnie Harrell Jr. was out of the lineup because of a foot infection, and they were down eight points with 4 minutes left in regulation.

With Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas leading the way and two freshmen making major contributions, Creighton came back to defeat the highest-ranked opponent in program history with its 89-83 upset of the Wildcats in overtime.

"Sitting in the locker room, I couldn't stop smiling," said Foster, who scored 28 points. "I'm so happy how we won that game. We've been talking these last three games about how we want to play, and then to go out and execute what we said we wanted to do, it's a great feeling right now."

Creighton (20-9, 9-7 Big East) won for the first time in nine games against Villanova since 2014. The Bluejays also avenged a 20-point road loss to Villanova on Feb. 1.

"We always get a great game from Creighton, especially here," Nova coach Jay Wright said. "You know on the road in this league you're going to play in great environments against great teams. You have to be one step ahead of them to win on the road, and we weren't today. They were one step better."

Villanova (25-4, 12-4) had taken a 68-60 lead in regulation thanks to eight straight points from Jalen Brunson, but the Wildcats missed seven of its last nine shots in overtime as Creighton tightened its defense.

Davion Mintz scored on his own putback to put the Bluejays ahead 78-76, and Jacob Epperson made it a four-point game with two free throws with 1:45 left in the extra period.

Brunson lost control of the ball under his basket on the Wildcats' next possession, and Phil Booth committed a flagrant-1 foul before Mitch Ballock scored for Creighton to make it 84-78.

"I've had some good wins over the course of my career, and I've coached some special teams," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. "I don't know if I've ever been as proud of a group as I am right now. If you're going to be successful against Villanova, you can't turn it over and give them run-outs, you have to find a way to hang in there on the boards and you have to have toughness. We did all three good enough."

Khyri Thomas made five straight 3-pointers in the first 11 minutes to set a career high and finished with 24 points. Ballock added 13 and fellow freshman Epperson had all 12 of his points after halftime.

Brunson led the Wildcats with 22 points, Mikal Bridges had 18 and Omari Spellman added 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Ballock's 3-pointer gave Creighton a 72-71 lead with 30 seconds left in regulation, and Thomas went to the free-throw line with a chance to put the Bluejays up by three.

But he missed the free throw, and Donte DiVincenzo was fouled on the rebound. DiVincenzo made one of two free throws to tie it 72-all, and the game went to overtime when Bridges blocked Foster's layup try just ahead of the buzzer.

"I told them at the start of overtime, `You get to play five more minutes in the greatest game of your life,'" McDermott said.

Big picture
Villanova: The Wildcats are 3-3 in their last six games and are one game behind Big East-leading Xavier with two regular-season games left.

Creighton: Thomas' early barrage of 3-pointers created energy the Bluejays lacked in their last three conference games, and Epperson's big second half and overtime showed they just might be able to overcome the season-ending injury to big man Martin Krampelj.

Up next
Villanova visits Seton Hall on Wednesday. The Wildcats won the first meeting 92-76 on Feb. 4.

Creighton hosts DePaul on Tuesday. The Bluejays won the first meeting 76-75 on Feb. 7.

Villanova knows better than to overlook next opponent

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Villanova knows better than to overlook next opponent

Previewing one of Villanova's final games of the regular season:

No. 3 Villanova (25-3, 12-3 Big East) at Creighton (19-9, 8-7 Big East), Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
Third-ranked Villanova is getting healthy at just the right time. Wednesday's 93-62 blowout win over DePaul marked the first game since Dec. 5 that Jay Wright had a full nine-man rotation at his disposal. Phil Booth returned for the victory over DePaul, Booth's first game since breaking his hand back on Jan. 23.

Booth didn't miss a beat, scoring 14 points in 16 minutes off the bench. He provided his typical scoring punch in addition to being a steadying presence defensively. The fact that Booth should get four regular-season games under his belt before the Big East Tournament bodes well for Villanova. I wouldn't be surprised to see Wright continue to use Booth as a sixth man in order to leave Donte DiVincenzo in the starting lineup, where he has flourished over the last month.

While Jalen Brunson remains a leading candidate for National Player of the Year honors, Mikal Bridges has transformed into the Wildcats' leading man as of late. The reigning Big East Player of the Week scored 27 points against DePaul and is averaging 23.7 points in the last three games. Given the presence of Brunson, Booth and DiVincenzo on the perimeter, opponents can't afford to double-team Bridges. And there aren't many players in the country who can guard him one-on-one. Look for Bridges to remain in attack mode with March right around the corner.

Villanova has three regular-season games remaining. If the Wildcats win all three, they would win a fifth straight Big East regular-season championship. The next hurdle comes in the form of a trip to Creighton Saturday. The Bluejays have hit a rough patch with four losses in their last six games, including a 23-point thumping at Butler on Tuesday. But Villanova is well aware of how dangerous Creighton can be playing in the raucous CenturyLink Arena in Omaha.

The Wildcats will show the proper respect for Creighton despite the Bluejays' recent struggles. Look for the Wildcats to move one step closer to another Big East championship on Saturday.

Villanova 80, Creighton 70