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No. 23 Villanova stunned by Seton Hall in regular-season finale

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No. 23 Villanova stunned by Seton Hall in regular-season finale

BOX SCORE 

NEWARK, N.J. — A couple of stunning wins may have put Seton Hall back in the NCAA Tournament, and the last one dforced No. 23 Villanova to wait a couple of hours to win the Big East Conference regular-season title.

Myles Powell scored 20 points, Myles Cale added 19 and Seton Hall upset the defending national champions 79-75 on Saturday, three days after knocking off No. 16 Marquette to revive its chances of going to college basketball's biggest tournament.

"We just beat two ranked teams. We beat Kentucky. We beat Maryland," said Powell, who added seven rebounds, five assists and three steals in more than 36 minutes. "The list goes on. We can play with anybody in the country when we are playing our basketball."

Seton Hall (18-12, 9-9), picked to finish eighth in the 10-team conference in the preseason poll, has exceeded all expectations playing with lone senior Michael Nzei.

Villanova (22-9, 13-5) came into the game needing a win to clinch its fifth outright title in six years. Despite the loss, the Wildcats won the crown and the No. 1 seed in next week's tournament when Georgetown beat No. 16 Marquette 84-85, handing the Golden Eagles their fourth straight loss.

"Seton Hall played really well right from the start, very locked in, very ready to play," said Villanova coach Jay Wright, whose team shared the conference title with Xavier last season. "For whatever reason, a number of little reasons, we just didn't have our guys ready to play at the start. They just jumped us early and it took us until the second half to really get going, which is disappointing.

"But that's what happened, and I was proud of our guys. We actually started competing in the second half and it just wasn't enough."

Jared Rhoden had a career-high 15 points, Sandro Mamukelashvili had 12 and a career-best 18 rebounds for Seton Hall. Nzei added 10 in his final home game.

"Our main focus right now is to win the Big East championship," said Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard, whose team will have a first-round bye.

Collin Gillespie had 22 points and Phil Booth came on late to add 16 for Villanova. Eric Paschall had 14, Saddiq Bey added 13 and Jermaine Samuels 10. The Wildcats, who have won of the last three national titles, didn't get a point from their bench.

"They were playing with great confidence coming off the Marquette game," Wright said of Seton Hall. "They looked really dialed in, just really efficient and we were not. You play a good team like that, you can't play 25 minutes."

This was almost like a tournament game with the Wildcats looking to clinch the regular-season crown and Seton Hall fighting to stay in the hunt for an NCAA berth.

Villanova rallied from a 16-point deficit early in the second half to draw within 66-65 on two free throws by Gillespie with 3:57 to go.

That would be as close as they got as Nzei scored inside and Mamukelashvili hit a follow for a 70-65 lead.

The Wildcats never got closer than three points the rest of the way.

"This feels really good, knowing we accomplished a lot," Cale said of this week. "But we know its unfinished business. We have to do more in the Big East Tournament. We are looking to go to the NCAA Tournament and see what we can do there."

The Pirates led most of the game and it ballooned from a 39-28 halftime lead to 16 points in the opening minutes of the second half. Powell hit two free throws and Cale, who was in a bit of a slump recently, hit a 3-pointer.

Villanova didn't wait long to start its comeback, scoring the next 13 points to draw within 44-41 on two free throws by Paschall.

It was Seton Hall's turn after that. Cale hit a 3-pointer to ignite a 12-4 run that put the Pirates ahead 56-45 with 11:38 to go.

Over the next eight minutes, the Wildcats whittled to lead down to a point, but that was it.

Big picture

Villanova: Plays in the Big East Tournament and then goes to NCAA Tournament.

Seton Hall: Will try to win the Big East Tournament and earn automatic NCAA berth.

Up next

Villanova: After a first-round bye, it plays the opening quarterfinal game at Madison Square Garden at noon on Thursday against either DePaul, Providence or Creighton.

Seton Hall: Will be the No. 3 or No. 4 seed against an opponent to be determined later Saturday.

Jay Wright weighs in on major Villanova storylines at season's midpoint

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Jay Wright weighs in on major Villanova storylines at season's midpoint

Villanova arrives at the unofficial midpoint of the season with a 12-3 overall record and a 3-1 mark in the Big East. The Wildcats have 16 regular-season games remaining, then it’s on to the Big East Tournament and what they hope will be their 15th trip to the NCAA Tournament in the last 16 years. 

I sat down with Villanova head coach Jay Wright for an exclusive conversation about the major storylines concerning his team as they gear up for the stretch run. 

The Big East grind

Villanova has dominated the Big East since the conference was reconfigured prior to the 2013-14 season. The Wildcats won the regular season championship five of the last six seasons and the conference tournament four of the last five years. 

They’ll have their work cut out for them continuing that run of dominance this year. The Big East is one of the toughest conferences top to bottom in the country.

With a 3-1 record in conference play, Villanova is currently looking up at both Seton Hall (4-0) and Butler (3-0) in the league standings. The road ahead is daunting — there aren’t any guaranteed wins on the Big East schedule. 

Wright’s Take: “You can look at any conference in the country and there are certain schools in that conference where you say 'Well, they're a football school.' In our conference there are no football schools, everybody is a basketball school. This means the world to everybody at every university. So whoever is No. 10 (last place in the conference) it’s still the biggest thing on their calendar. When you go there it is a tough, tough game. 

This year, it’s a whole different level because everyone has proven in the non-conference schedule just how good they are. All the teams are going to need to have short memories. We were terrible against Marquette (on January 4th) but Marquette is really good. We played in front of 18,000 crazy, screaming fans. So you can't get down on yourself from that performance, you’ve got to come back and go to Creighton three days later and play in front of another 18,000 crazy screaming fans.”

Inconsistent shooting

Villanova has been at the forefront of the three-point movement in college basketball. Like a lot of teams, the Wildcats take a ton of three-point shots. What separated them from the pack in recent years was their ability to make those shots. They rode terrific three-point shooting to national championships in 2016 and 2018.

But this season has been different. Villanova is shooting a little over 34 percent as a team from long range, ranking in the lower half of the Big East. The Wildcats are still taking a lot of threes - their 418 attempts are second most in the conference. 

Inconsistent is the best word to describe Villanova’s shooting. The Wildcats shot 51 percent from three-point range in Saturday’s win over Georgetown. But their struggles were glaring in back-to-back games against Marquette and Creighton last week. The Wildcats combined to make just 15 of 71 three-point attempts in those games, a 21.1 shooting percentage.   

Wright’s Take: “We have a saying 'Shoot em up and sleep in the streets'. That means we're going to shoot. We're going to shoot first and be aggressive and some nights we're going to be really bad and no one is going to want us in their house and they're going to make us sleep in the streets. That's kind of what we’ve been doing lately. Then we're going to develop our good decision making after that. But we're not going to try to be good decision makers first and not shoot. So that's where we are right now, it's been ugly. We’ve been sleeping in the streets a lot. You ask if I’m happy with our decision making? No. Am I happy with where we are in terms of our commitment to learning those good decisions? Yes.”

Defensive attitude

‘Attitude’ is a word used quite a bit within the Villanova program. It applies to everything the Wildcats do but holds special meaning concerning their defense. 

While the offense has been spotty, their effort on the defensive end is rounding into form. The Wildcats held their last five opponents to an average of 62 points per game. 

Wright gives his players freedom on the offensive end provided they put forth the requisite effort defensively. This year’s group has been keeping up its end of the bargain.

Wright’s Take: “Our defense is starting to get there, we still have a lot of work to do. We're not consistent, we weren't great against Marquette (a 71-60 loss), we were really good against Creighton (a 64-59 win), we were really good against Kansas (a 56-55 win). But then you could see that slip against Marquette. I really like our attitude, I really like guys like Collin (Gillespie), Saddiq (Bey), Jermaine (Samuels) and Dhamir (Cosby-Roundtree) becoming leaders. They're not there yet, but they're becoming leaders. The younger guys are starting to keep their composure on the floor in road games. Nothing is consistent yet but I like the direction we're going.”

Gillespie's heavy lifting

With the departures of fifth-year seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall last year, it was evident that Collin Gillespie would shoulder a heavy burden as a junior. 

He is the unquestioned leader of a roster devoid of any scholarship seniors. Gillespie’s play on the court has been excellent - he is Villanova’s second leading scorer and leads the team in assists and steals. 

The Archbishop Wood product is drawing rave reviews from his head coach.

Wright’s Take: “Collin is in a really tough spot. He has nobody around him with the experience that he has. He’s a third year guy, he's got this team on his shoulders. He's tough as nails, Northeast Philly tough, we love him. He has that Philadelphia Catholic League intelligence. I don’t know if the other guys on the team know what that is, but we do and we take great pride in it and so does he. 

He's got to be patient with these young guys, a combination of patient and demanding. But he's still got to perform. He's doing a great job of it. We don't lighten up on him, we just put more and more on him. We're really proud of how he's handling his leadership role as a junior.”

Antoine's progress

Bryan Antoine was the centerpiece of Wright’s star-studded 2019 recruiting class. He was a McDonald’s All-American and ranked as a Top 15 prospect by all of the top recruiting services. Antoine was expected to make an immediate impact at Villanova. 

That plan took a detour last spring when Antoine underwent major surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He wasn’t cleared for basketball activities until late November and missed the first three games of the season. 

Antoine has played in nine games, averaging a little more than seven minutes of playing time in those games. His progress is a storyline worth monitoring in the second half of the season. Can he develop into an x-factor in February and March?

Wright’s Take: “Brian was one of those guys that even if everything worked out perfect for him, he's 175 pounds, he was going to have come here and get stronger. He was going to have to learn the system, even if everything worked out perfect. The hype about him is warranted because in high school his quickness and athleticism were off the charts and he played on a great team. Now he's playing where his (lack of) strength right now is a weakness for him.

And you add to that the fact that he didn't play basketball since his last high school game. He missed the whole summer, the whole preseason. So he's learning what we do, which would have been difficult even if he was here from day one.  

We are thrilled with where he is. We think he has an incredible future here. I know everybody else wants this quick fix and they want to see this excitement right away. But you have to be patient with him. Just to be fair to him, you just have to give him some time.”

No. 10 Villanova upset by Markus Howard, Marquette

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No. 10 Villanova upset by Markus Howard, Marquette

BOX SCORE

MILWAUKEE — Markus Howard scored 29 points and Marquette started the New Year with a 71-60 upset of 10th-ranked Villanova on Saturday.

Howard, who entered the day as the nation's top scorer at more than 25 points a game, added eight rebounds before fouling out to lead the Golden Eagles (10-3, 1-1 Big East).

Cole Swider and Justin Moore each had 14 points for Villanova (10-2, 1-1), which had won its last six games.

The difference came at the foul line — Marquette made 26 of 30, Villanova 3 of 5. The Golden Eagles also had seven blocks — four by Theo John.

Marquette shot more than 55% from the field in the first half and was 13-for-13 from the line before the break. Marquette led by as many as 20 before holding a 46-30 advantage at halftime.

Howard scored 12 points in the first seven minutes and finished the first half with 17. Howard and Koby McEwen combined for 30 of the Marquette's 46 first-half points. McEwen finished with 22.

Swider kept the Wildcats respectable early. The sophomore forward hit all four of his 3s in the first half and had12 points at intermission.

Big picture

After losing to Creighton 92-75 in its conference opener, the Golden Eagles picked up a big victory at home and have now won six of their last seven games.

Villanova, which has won two of the last four national championships, now must quickly pick up the pieces after getting dominated on the road.

Up next

Villanova: Plays at Creighton on Tuesday.

Marquette: Hosts Providence on Tuesday.