Villanova Wildcats

DiVincenzo helps Villanova avoid a nightmare

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DiVincenzo helps Villanova avoid a nightmare


There’s been a lot of talk around these parts lately about dreams and nightmares.

And Saturday afternoon’s matchup for No.1 Villanova sounded like the most nightmarish one possible.

Coming off a stunning 79-75 upset at the hands of St. John’s, which was previously winless in the conference, the shorthanded Wildcats, minus forwards Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, were tasked with facing their Big East kryptonite, Butler, which had toppled Villanova on three straight occasions.

It wasn’t easy, especially early on, but a redheaded Superman stepped out of the phone booth and helped the Wildcats turn the nightmare scenario into the dream of solving that Bulldog kryptonite.

Donte DiVincenzo dropped a career-high 30 points, including 20 during an explosive second half, as the Wildcats overcame an early 13-point deficit to take their first lead early in the second half and never let go of the stranglehold to beat Butler, 86-75, on Saturday afternoon at Wells Fargo Center. It was Villanova’s first win over Butler since Feb. 20, 2016.

The top-ranked Wildcats improved to 23-2 on the season and 10-2 in the conference. Butler fell to 17-9 on the campaign and 7-6 in Big East play. Villanova still hasn’t lost back-to-back games since March 2013.

Villanova head coach Jay Wright admitted afterward that worry had set in early in the contest as the ‘Cats fell behind.

“Yeah, you are,” Wright said. “You realize you have a lot of young guys out there and they have a really good team.”

But enter DiVincenzo to wash the worry away. There was no way this game ended up the way it did without his sterling performance.

Villanova was having trouble keeping up in the first half with hot-shooting Butler, which shot 56 percent from the field and 54 percent from downtown in the first half. Kelan Martin, who also finished with 30 but had 17 in the first half, and the Bulldogs had an answer for everything the ‘Cats threw at them en route to leading 38-30 with 1:48 left in the half.

DiVincenzo started the wildfire of a 21-4 run over the next 6:55 of game time that brought the whiteout-clad sellout crowd of 20,683 to its feet and sent a furious jolt of energy throughout the entire building. It was one those hallmark devastating runs the Wildcats use to just bully teams into submission. This one saw Villanova take supreme control with a 51-42 lead, and the ‘Cats never looked back.

DiVincenzo had 11 of those 21 points.

“I think [Butler] is very good at containing the three and also being able to guard one-on-one,” DiVincenzo said after the victory. “They did a great job guarding one-on-one and sometimes we just did a great job of making shots.”

DiVincenzo’s 30 points bring a gaudy, eye-popping nature to them. And rightfully so as he was spectacular on the offensive end and was clearly the Wildcats’ MVP on this February Saturday. But Wright was way more impressed with something else his redshirt sophomore forward did against the Bulldogs.

“You guys are going to think I’m nuts, but he probably played his best defensive game of the year,” Wright said of DiVincenzo. “He had 30 points, but he was at the top of the zone, he kept people in front of him, he guarded everybody. He was involved in rebounding. He didn’t get a lot, but he was in there keeping balls alive.

“It was really what he did defensively and to be able to play 40 minutes that hard defensively.”

That defensive effort spread throughout the Villanova sideline as the ‘Cats just smothered Butler in the second half. The Bulldogs shooting percentage plummeted to just 34 percent overall and 31 percent from downtown in the final 20 minutes. Villanova, on the other hand, shot 56 percent in the second half and never stopped punishing Butler for its faults until the final buzzer blared throughout South Philadelphia.

“They turned up the energy early in the second half,” Butler’s Martin said. “They just came out and made their shots. Some tough shots, as well. They chipped away, but we fell.”

There was a noticeable difference on the defensive side of the floor for Villanova and it helped turned the tide in the second half.

The Wildcats are notorious for their staunch man-to-man defense. But without both Booth and Paschall, two looming interior presences, Wright decided to dial up a ferocious zone defense that muzzled the Butler attack — the same Butler attack that shot a blistering 15 of 22 from downtown during a 101-93 upset of Villanova back in December in Indianapolis.

“Our man-to-man is a little more complicated,” Wright said. “[Freshman] Jermaine [Samuels] hasn’t been practicing. He’s only been at two practices. We played him and then when we had to play [freshman] Dhamir [Cosby-Roundtree] with two bigs out there. We felt we couldn’t guard them man-to-man. We had Collin [Gillespie], Omari [Spellman] and Jermaine out there, three freshmen in a zone and they did a hell of a job.”

“[Zone] is not that much different,” DiVincenzo said.  “We practice it a lot. So we’re used to playing it because we practice it every day. Like Coach said, we had to put the young guys out there who hadn’t played it that much. But we play it throughout the season and they did a great job out there.

“It’s just communication. Know where their scorers are and just make sure everyone is on the same page.”

While as intense as it gets, the Villanova zone did not catch Butler head coach LaVall Jordan by surprise.  But still, his team’s responses to it were fleeting at best.

“We have to do a better job against a zone like that. It kept us out of the paint,” said Jordan, whose team had just 10 points in the paint all day long.

“We expected some zone just with the injuries they have. Coming into the game, I didn’t know how much to expect. But it’s a part of their package defensively. … We could have handled that better.”

Just what Villanova needs, another weapon in its arsenal.

Injury updates
Wright said after the game that Booth is still weeks away from returning as the guard’s broken hand is still in a cast.

Things are much more cloudy for Paschall, who is out with a concussion suffered in a nasty fall while leaping for a rebound last week vs. Seton Hall.

“With concussion protocol, it’s just one day at a time,” Wright said. “He’s still a number of days away at best-case scenario.”

Eric Paschall, Phil Booth lead No. 13 Villanova past Providence

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Eric Paschall, Phil Booth lead No. 13 Villanova past Providence


VILLANOVA, Pa. — By the time Eric Paschall and Phil Booth exited the game in the final minutes, some fans had already left the arena since the result was no longer in question. Those that remained made sure to give the two fifth-year seniors a hearty ovation.

Paschall scored 20 of his 25 points in the second half and No. 13 Villanova rebounded from its first Big East loss by running away from Providence 85-67 on Wednesday night.

Booth added 22 for the Wildcats (20-5, 11-1), who were fresh off a one-point loss to No. 10 Marquette after getting off to a program best 10-0 start in league play.

"Great leadership from our two seniors," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "They've been carrying us a lot."

Nate Watson led Providence (14-11, 4-8) with 18 points. The Friars have lost four of their last five but were coming off an impressive 14-point road win at St. John's on Saturday.

"They had a lot of adults on the floor," Providence coach Ed Cooley said. "Most old teams win. Not many young teams win, unless they're just the blue bloods of all blue bloods."

After two straight 3-pointers from Paschall put Villanova ahead 53-45 early in the second half, Providence scored the next 10 points, culminating with a steal and acrobatic reverse layup from Maliek White, to take a 55-53 lead with 10:29 remaining.

But Paschall delivered two more big threes - right in front of the `Nova bench - to help the Wildcats close the game on a 23-6 run. Underclassmen Saddiq Bey and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree helped seal the win with a 3-pointer and three-point play during the decisive spurt.

Pashcall shot 10 for 13 from the field and 5 for 6 from 3-point range. Cosby-Roundtree finished with 12 points and didn't miss a shot from the field (4 for 4) or the foul line (4 for 4) as Villanova shot 63 percent in the second half.

"We just knew we had to get better," Paschall said. "It was a whole bunch of little things we had to work on."

Providence junior Alpha Diallo, the eighth leading scorer and top rebounder in the Big East, was held scoreless until an emphatic dunk and three-point play with 1:38 left in the first half followed by a 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left.

Diallo finished with 11 points and seven rebounds while committing five turnovers.

"I was proud of our guys for about 35 minutes," Cooley said. "I thought their experience and discipline showed late while our inexperience and lack of discipline showed late."

Big picture

Providence: The Friars, who have made the NCAA Tournament and won at least 20 games in each of the last five seasons, continue to struggle to put together complete performances. "Unless we can turn my team into another team, that's just what we're going to have to deal with with this year's group," Cooley said.

Villanova: The Wildcats have a one-game lead on Marquette for first place in the Big East while no other team in the league even has a winning record. Villanova won the first four regular-season championships of the revamped Big East before Xavier took the title last season.

Fouls upon fouls

After shooting a perfect 14 for 14 from the foul line in the first half, the Wildcats were on the wrong end of the whistle during one stretch midway through the second half in which they were called for four fouls in one possession.

Wright said he was proud of how his players kept their composure after what he called a "rare" sequence, while Booth claimed to have barely noticed the uniqueness of the situation.

"We were more focused on what we did wrong that caused the fouls," Booth said. "You just gotta keep playing."

Gotta have Hart

Los Angeles Lakers guard Josh Hart, who led Villanova to the 2016 national championship, joined his old college team for practice Tuesday and was honored before Wednesday's game, while wearing a Jalen Brunson Dallas Mavericks jersey.

"He sat through a film session and said, `I shouldn't have entered that room, I couldn't get out,'" Wright laughed. "But it's always good to have him. Our guys love him."

Up next

Providence begins a three-game home stretch vs. Xavier on Saturday afternoon.

Villanova plays the first of three straight games on the road at St. John's on Sunday evening.

No. 14 Villanova comes up short at buzzer vs. No. 10 Marquette

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No. 14 Villanova comes up short at buzzer vs. No. 10 Marquette


MILWAUKEE — Markus Howard provided the offense and this time around, Marquette's defense put on just enough pressure at the end.

Howard scored 38 points and the 10th-ranked Golden Eagles hung on at the buzzer, edging No. 14 Villanova 66-65 Saturday and handing the Wildcats their first Big East Conference loss.

Marquette (20-4, 9-2) was coming off a one-point loss to St. John's in which it failed to get a final stop.

The Golden Eagles, who led by 15 early in the second half, took a 66-63 edge on two free throws by Howard with 53 seconds left. Phil Booth answered with a floater in the lane that made it a one-point game.

Jermaine Samuels then stripped Howard on the ensuing possession with 14 seconds left. After a timeout, Booth drove on Sacar Anim but was cut off underneath by reserve forward Ed Morrow.

Booth passed the ball back to Samuels, who missed an off-balance jumper from the left side as time ran out.

"We just wanted to make it tough for him, obviously bring him to a crowd," Anim said. "We really wanted to force him to drive where I knew I was going to have some help. We were able to get him down there and Ed made a big time play."

Villanova coach Jay Wright said the last play didn't develop the way he hoped.

"We were just running a ball screen and trying to put it in Phil's hands, just let him make a decision," Wright said. "We trust him to make a decision."

"I don't think we gave him great options. I don't think his teammates spaced out really well. We got congested under the rim. It's one of those things. I think they thought he was going to shoot it so they started to go for the offensive rebound instead of giving him an option," he said. "I don't have a problem with that. When you get to that point, you've got to let the players make the decisions."

Booth had 19 points and Eric Paschall 17 for Villanova (19-5, 10-1), which had won 11 straight since a 74-71 loss to Kansas on Dec. 15. The Wildcats had won nine of the 10 previous games against Marquette.

Howard, the Big East's leading scorer, hit 13 of 24 shots, including 5 of 11 on 3s. He made all seven of his free throws.

Anim added 18 on 8-of-10 shooting for the Golden Eagles.

Marquette bounced back from its first home loss of the season, 70-69 to St. John's on Tuesday when Shamorie Ponds scored the game-winning basket on a drive with 16 seconds left.

"Overall, I thought we played an outstanding defensive game against a very dangerous and potent offense," Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said. "It's ironic that, although it wasn't exactly the same game situation, essentially it was the same. If we get a stop, we're going to win."

The Golden Eagles opened the second half with a 10-3 run, taking a 40-29 lead on a jumper by Sam Hauser with 16:38 left. Marquette pushed the lead to 47-32 on Anim's jumper as Villanova made just 2 of its first 12 shots after the break.

Villanova answered with 10 consecutive points, pulling within 47-42 on Saddiq Bey's 3-pointer from the right corner. The Wildcats later went on a 13-2 burst and took a 55-53 lead on Samuel's 3-pointer with 6:16 remaining.

"We just came out with a competitive edge, something to prove," Howard said. "I think we have a lot to prove still, but today especially, we just wanted to bounce back from the game we had Tuesday. That was not the team we were, that's not the team we've been. Tonight, we really just bounce back and do the best way we could to pick it up on the defensive end."

Big picture 
Villanova: After facing Providence at home, the Wildcats play three straight on the road at St. John's, Georgetown and Xavier. Villanova earlier defeated all three at home.

Marquette: The Golden Eagles play three of their next four on the road, culminating in a rematch at Villanova on Feb. 27. Although dominant at home, Marquette is 5-3 on the road.

One-two punch — and that's it 
Howard and Anim combined for 56 of Marquette's 66 points. The backcourt duo was 21 of 34 from the field, and 7 of 14 on 3s. The rest of the Golden Eagles were a combined 5 of 17 and missed all four 3-point attempts. Junior guard Sam Hauser, averaging 15.7 points, was held to four, and his 6-9 freshman brother, Joey Hauser, averaging 10.4, failed to score in 28 minutes.

Up next  
Villanova hosts Providence on Wednesday.

Marquette is at DePaul on Tuesday.