Defending champion Villanova shows its experience in NCAA Tournament first-round win over Saint Mary's

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Defending champion Villanova shows its experience in NCAA Tournament first-round win over Saint Mary's

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HARTFORD, Conn. — Villanova got off to a slow start in defense of its NCAA championship against a determined, defensive-minded Saint Mary's team that came in confident after a season-defining win.

But the Wildcats, a No. 6 seed in this NCAA Tournament after an up-and-down season, have one thing no team in the field of 64 has: a pair of leaders who have won two national titles.

 NPhil Booth scored 20 points, fellow senior Eric Paschell added 14 and Villanova held off 11th-seeded Saint Mary's 61-57 on Thursday night.

"We're growing, our young guys are growing, but we have two seniors who do everything for us, on and off the court," coach Jay Wright said. "We're just so lucky to have them."

Sophomore Jermaine Sameuls added 12 points for the Wildcats (26-9), who led for almost 33 minutes, but never by more than eight points.

"The tempo was excruciating," Wright said. "We felt going in we were going to have to grind with them."

The Gaels used the same slow pace to upset Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference Tournament, and it gave them a chance against Villanova (26-9) in a tense opening-round matchup.

Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts each had 13 points for Saint Mary's (22-12). Ford's basket in the lane after a few nifty moves got the Gaels within six points at 61-55 with 34 seconds left.

After Paschell missed a foul shot on the other end, Fitts cut the deficit to four points with a leaner in the lane. The Gaels had two more chances in the final seconds, but Fitts hit the rim on a 3-point attempt and Villanova freshman Saddiq Bey stole the ball from Ford in the final seconds to seal the win.

"We had a few games this year where we put the press on and were able to get back in the game," said Ford. "And if we get a few of those loose balls, or maybe make a three when we were down four, I think it's a different game."

Saint Mary's led 30-28 at the half, but Booth scored the first five points after intermission during a 12-3 run that put the Wildcats up 40-33. He had 12 points and five of his six assists in the second half.

"We weren't doing that bad, actually," Booth said. "It was more that they were playing very well and we were trying to match how they were bringing it. I think we just had to take it to another level, because they were playing at a high level."

Big picture

Villanova: The defending champions are in the tournament for the 14th time in 15 seasons and improved to 14-1 since 2016.

Saint Mary's: The Gaels are 4-6 in opening-round games in the NCAA Tournament and 5-10 overall. Saint Mary's has advanced to the Sweet 16 once in the modern era when it beat the Wildcats in 2010. There's a reminder of that run in the hallway outside the locker room that the players see as they walk out to practice each day in McKeon Pavilion.

Empty arena

The game tipped to a relatively empty arena, but it wasn't because nobody had bought tickets.

Fans of the Wildcats, many of whom made the 4-hour drive from Philadelphia to Hartford, Connecticut, were lined up along with Gaels fans behind metal detectors as security emptied the arena from the afternoon session.

"You worry about those things, you know?" Wright said. "We have a lot of guys in the NCAA Tournament for the first time thinking, `This is the NCAA Tournament?' There's no one in the stands."

By halftime, the 16,000-seat XL Center was nearing capacity, but some frustrated fans were sill filing in.

From distance

The game was billed as a battle between one of the nation's top 3-point shooting teams in Villanova against some of the nation's best perimeter defenders. In the end, the Wildcats finished 8 of 20 from behind the arc, while Saint Mary's was 8 of 22.

On the boards

The taller Gaels won the rebounding battle 33-29 and 10-5 on the offensive end. The Wildcats didn't have an offensive board until the second half and that led to an 11-4 advantage for Saint Mary's in second-chance points. Wright said this year's team was hurt by the transfer of 6-foot-9 Dylan Painter, but is going to have to find a way against taller opponents.

Up next

Villanova will play No. 3 seed Purdue in the second round Saturday.

The Fran Dunphy era ends as Temple falls to Belmont in First Four of NCAA Tournament

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The Fran Dunphy era ends as Temple falls to Belmont in First Four of NCAA Tournament

Updated: 1:31 a.m. 

DAYTON, Ohio — A few seconds were still left on the clock when Fran Dunphy headed to midcourt for his final postgame handshake, the outcome long decided. Belmont was simply too much for his Owls.

Nobody else in the NCAA Tournament is excited to face their efficient offense, either.

Kevin McClain scored 29 points and led the decisive second-half run as Belmont got its first NCAA Tournament win, pulling away to an 81-70 victory Tuesday night and ending Dunphy's career in the First Four.

The 11th-seeded Bruins (27-5) play Maryland on Thursday in the East Region.

"We belong in this tournament," said McClain, who finished two points shy of his career high. "You can see that."

Belmont got an at-large bid after losing to Murray State in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament title game. The Bruins showed the selection committee's faith was not misplaced, getting the breakthrough win on their eighth try.

"I think that they can play in this atmosphere and this is important," coach Rick Byrd said. "I didn't think many times we played well, or knew what we were in offensively, but they found a way to win. And you never play perfect, and I think they've got some toughness about them."

The loss sent Temple (23-10) into a transition. Dunphy is retiring after his 13th season at Temple, where he replaced John Chaney. Dunphy previously coached 17 seasons at Penn.

"The game of basketball has given me way more than I have given to it," Dunphy said.

He was hoping to coach another day, but Belmont's high-scoring offense pulled away at the end. Senior guard Shizz Alston Jr. led the Owls with 21 points.

"That team is smart," Alston said. "They only do what they're good at."

The Bruins entered the tournament second in the nation at 87.4 points per game. The Owls' aim was to slow the high-percentage offense just enough to give themselves a chance. Temple hung in during a first half that featured five lead changes and ended with Belmont ahead 37-31.

The Bruins pushed their lead to 11 points by hitting their first two shots in the second half. Alston, who led the American Athletic Conference at 19.7 points per game, hit three 3-pointers as the Owls surged ahead 50-46. Alston has been the Owls' catalyst, scoring at least 20 points in each of his last nine games.

McClain led a 16-3 run that put Belmont ahead to stay. McClain finished two points shy of his career high.

The Bruins' balanced offense had more than enough even though leading scorer Dylan Windler was held to five points on 2-of-7 shooting, matching his season low. Windler came in averaging 21.4 points.

Big picture 
Temple: Former Owls star Aaron McKie takes over for Dunphy. McKie is an assistant on Dunphy's staff. The Owls haven't won an NCAA Tournament game since 2013, when they beat N.C. State at Dayton before losing in the second round. They went 2-8 in eight appearances under Dunphy.

Belmont: The Bruins got only the second at-large NCAA Tournament bid in Ohio Valley Conference history, along with Middle Tennessee in 1987. They'd dropped their seven appearances when they had automatic bids.

Tourney history 
Temple's last NCAA Tournament win was in 2013 over N.C. State in Dayton. The Owls are 33-33 all-time in the tournament.

Belmont is making its eighth NCAA appearance since 2006. Its closest previous brush with a victory was a one-point loss to Duke in 2008.

Moose tracks
Six-foot-11 freshman center Nick Muszynski missed the OVC title game with a sprained left ankle, injured the previous game. Muszynski, whose nickname is Moose, started Tuesday and had 16 points and four rebounds. He wore a protective boot after the game.

"I thought he played terrific," Byrd said. "We just didn't know what we were going to get. Frankly, yesterday in practice he didn't look very good at all. But he really showed a lot today."

Philly fewer 
Philadelphia's Big 5 rivalry lost two of its longtime coaches Tuesday. In addition to Dunphy heading into retirement, Saint Joseph's fired Phil Martelli after his 24th season.

No stage fright 
The crowd at University of Dayton Arena was 11,874, the second-largest Belmont has played in front of this season. The high was 14,804 at Mackey Arena on Dec. 29, when Belmont lost to Purdue 73-62.

Up next 
Belmont heads to Jacksonville, Florida, for its game against Maryland.

Villanova's X-factors, chances at history in 2019 NCAA Tournament

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Villanova's X-factors, chances at history in 2019 NCAA Tournament

The NCAA Tournament tips off Tuesday night with the start of the First Four in Dayton. There are a couple prominent Big 5 storylines as college basketball takes center stage for the next three weeks. Namely, Villanova is trying to do something that hasn't been done in 44 years: win three national championships in the span of four years.

Then there's Temple's Fran Dunphy coaching in his 17th and final NCAA Tournament before stepping down at the end of the season.

Here's a breakdown of what lies ahead for the local teams.

Can Villanova make history?

The Wildcats are back in the NCAA Tournament for the 14th time in the last 15 years under Jay Wright. They arrive with plenty of momentum after winning their third straight Big East Tournament last week at Madison Square Garden. Villanova is riding a ridiculous wave of postseason success — since the 2016 season, the Wildcats have a 26-2 record in Big East and NCAA Tournament competition.

Now they set out to win a third national championship in the last four years. That hasn't been done since the UCLA dynasty in the mid-1970s.

Villanova is flying under the radar compared to previous years in terms of contending for a national title. The Wildcats are the 6-seed in the South Region and will play St. Mary's on Thursday night in Hartford, CT. St. Mary's comes into play with a 22-11 record after a shocking win over then-No. 1 Gonzaga in the WCC championship game last week.

Villanova is battle-tested and has one of the premiere coaches in the country. The Wildcats are led by two terrific seniors in Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, two guys with tons of NCAA Tournament experience. Those are the positives.

The biggest negative? Villanova's lack of depth. Wright's rotation essentially shrunk to six players during the Big East Tournament.

Sophomore Jermaine Samuels and freshman Saddiq Bey are the X-factors. Both Samuels and Bey have had their moments this season and were critical to Villanova's success last week. If Samuels and Bey can step up to complement Booth and Paschall, the Wildcats will be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament.

Fran Dunphy's last stand

Dunphy has pretty much done it all during a remarkable career. A standout player at La Salle, he received a master's degree from Villanova and has served as the head coach at both Penn and Temple. His "Mr. Big 5" nickname is well deserved.

He had tremendous success during his 17 seasons at Penn, winning nine Ivy League titles and going to nine NCAA Tournaments. Dunphy carried that success over to Temple, winning three straight Atlantic 10 Tournaments from 2008 to 2010. He has led the Owls to eight NCAA Tournaments during his 13 seasons as head coach.

The one thing missing from Dunphy's resume is success on the sport's biggest stage. He has a 3-16 career record in the NCAA Tournament. Dunphy's Owls will try to improve that record on Tuesday night against a Belmont team that won 26 games this season.

Dunphy is a great coach, terrific man and has been a wonderful ambassador for college basketball. It would be a great story if Temple sends him out with a nice run in this NCAA Tournament.