Villanova Wildcats

Villanova opens national title defense with win over Morgan State at refurbished Pavilion

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Villanova opens national title defense with win over Morgan State at refurbished Pavilion

Updated: 10:05 p.m.

BOX SCORE 

VILLANOVA, Pa. — Villanova started to head out for the second half toward its rehabilitated court when it somehow got lost in a maze of exits and sprinted out the wrong end.

"Everything's a first," coach Jay Wright said. "We're figuring it out."

The Wildcats will quickly get used to the intricacies of their digs.

They already seem quite at home, and as dominant as usual, at the new-look Pavilion.

Eric Paschall scored 26 points, Phil Booth had 17 and No. 9 Villanova opened its national championship defense with a 100-77 win over Morgan State on Tuesday night.

"I feel like we have great potential," Paschall said.

The Wildcats always do — they've won 12 straight games dating to last season and won their 16th consecutive season opener.

The new kid on the block that shone the most was the refurbished Pavilion, which closed for a season and forced the Wildcats to play a year in Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center. Villanova's on-campus court underwent a $65 million facelift that would have made the Property Brothers jealous.

The Wildcats couldn't put a price tag on their sweetest accessory — the 2018 national championship banner raised high above midcourt. Under Wright, Villanova has won two of the last three national championships, and seating for this season is at a premium. StubHub had lower level tickets selling for $375 shortly before tip, and a gym that for three decades had a skeleton crew of concession stands suddenly had deep-pocketed donors noshing on fried shrimp, $10 Wildcat burgers and taking a nip of top-shelf booze.

"Man, it was loud, it was jumping the whole time," Wright said. "I thought the crowd was great. There's a different vibe in here. It's definitely louder. It's pretty cool."

Bad news for the Big East, the Wildcats have more of a homecourt edge.

The Pavilion's courtside press row seating was stripped to make room for 88 courtside seats, there was club seating for the first time and the concourse also wrapped 360 degrees. The lights were dimmed for an NBA-worthy lineup introduction -- kind of a big deal considering in the old joint derisively known as the "ski lodge," it took 20 minutes for the entire building to light up once the switches were flipped.

On opening night, the Pavilion was lit.

Artificial noise was pumped in and fans were encouraged to stand until the Wildcats scored their first basket. It didn't take long. Collin Gillespie hit a 3 and the Wildcats hit from long range much like they did against Michigan in the title game in San Antonio, Texas.

They just didn't look like the same Wildcats.

AP Player of the Year Jalen Brunson plays for the Dallas Mavericks. Omari Spellman is with the Atlanta Hawks. Mikal Bridges landed in Phoenix after a draft-night trade with the 76ers, and Donte DiVincenzo — who scored 31 points in the title game win over Michigan — is with the Milwaukee Bucks. That's a ton of talent that walked out the door, but the Wildcats were eager to showcase the replacements. With the Wildcats up 15 in the first half, they had Booth, who has two national championships, and four freshmen on the court.

"We actually weren't trying the lineups. We were trying for fresh bodies," Wright said.

Saddiq Bey, one of those freshman, hit 3s on his first two shots and scored 16 points. Jahvon Quinerly buried a 3 for his only bucket.

Paschall made his first six baskets and scored 19 points in the first half. Paschall and Booth showed the veterans will lead the Wildcats early will the underclassmen find their way.

"We have to listen to the old guys like Eric and Phil," Bey said.

Big picture
Morgan State: Isaiah Burke led the Bears with 17 points. Morgan State took advantage of weak Villanova defense. The Bears started 12 of 24 from the floor and only trailed 54-43 at the break. They only trailed 64-57 with 12 minutes left in the second half before the Wildcats pull away. The Bears made only five 3s to 12 for Villanova.

Villanova: The rich get richer — on the court and, well, around it — and there's little reason to think the Wildcats won't again be in the national title picture.

Bear necessities 
Morgan State had more points in the paint (48-40), points off turnovers (22-10) and off the bench (45-36).

Up next
Morgan State stays in Pennsylvania with a game Friday at St. Francis.

Villanova has one more tune-up against Quinnipiac on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center before it has a national championship game rematch against Michigan.

Villanova's buzzer-beating win over Georgetown in 1999 was The Best Game I Ever Saw Live

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Villanova's buzzer-beating win over Georgetown in 1999 was The Best Game I Ever Saw Live

January 30th 1999.  I was a 15-year-old who wondered how the Phillies would build around Scott Rolen, marveled at Lindros and LeClair’s 40 goal seasons, happy to have Iverson back after a lockout and was suspicious about some guy named ‘Reid’ the Eagles just hired.  

In the midst of all this, my best bud, Ryan Bennett and his family, scored tickets to Villanova vs. Georgetown at the now Wells Fargo Center for a Saturday noon tipoff and they were kind enough to invite me along.  

I remember Ryan and I had a CYO High School basketball game that night in Lansdale at 7 p.m.

“No problem, plenty of time”, we thought. 

The Bennett’s picked me up at that morning and off we went to what would be the best game I ever saw... 

Our seats were in the upper level, 1st row, in a corner at the end Nova would be shooting at in the 2nd half.

Steve Lapas’ Wildcats opened with a 13-0 run on Craig Esherick’s Hoyas. Esherick had just taken over for the legend, John Thompson. 

Just as an aside. My friend and I kept thinking Esherick looked A LOT like Norm MacDonald as Burt Reynolds (aka Turd Ferguson) on SNL’s celebrity Jeopardy. You be the judge…

Anyway, back to basketball.  

In the 2nd half, the Wildcats built a 17-point lead only to see it wiped away with a 17-0 Hoyas run. Georgetown’s Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje’s lay-up tied the game at 67 with 2:30 left. RBB was a Cameroonian baller before it was trendy. 

I remember a slew of guys were in foul trouble. Including RBB and Malik Allen.

In the final :45 seconds, tied at 69-69, both Nova and G-town sent guys to the line to shoot two. Neither team hit a free throw. Missed all four.  

Nova had one final chance on an inbounds play with 11 seconds left in regulation. John Celestand got the ball, tried working for a shot, gave it up to Allen who shot and missed from the top of the key as time expired.  

1st OT

The Hoyas struck first with a three, then three players fouled out; the Hoyas’ RBB and Jaleel Watkins and Nova’s T.J. Caouette. Six players would end up fouling out of this game in total. 

With :11 seconds left and Nova down two, Brooks Sales hit two free throws to tie it at 78. Kevin Braswell, a freshman guard for the Hoyas brought the ball up and was picked up by Celestand. Braswell rose for the game winner with :03 seconds on the clock and Celestand stuffed him! The ball never even left the freshman’s hand! Celestand was all over it. Smothered! 

Time ran out. 

2nd OT 

The game seesawed a bit. Howard Brown banked in a three for Nova. Braswell responded with a driving lay-up. 82-81, Georgetown.

With a little over 2:00 left, Allen, fouled out.  Nova would keep pace thanks to a huge three from Brian Lynch with just over a minute left that gave the Cats an 87-86 lead.   

Then things got bleak for Nova. 

Georgetown took a 90-87 lead on another Braswell layup and a free throws from Daymond Jackson and Anthony Perry. Perry made the first of two, missed the second. Nova secured the rebound and pushed up the floor with :14 seconds left. 

Then a Nova Miracle. 

The Wildcats, down 3, crossed half court and set up their offense with nine seconds left. They worked it to Brown in the corner. The same corner my friend and I were sitting over in the upper level. Brown let it fly and hit the three to tie the game at 90. With 2.4 seconds left the Hoyas inbounded under the basket and threw a pass to half court. The ball was tipped by Nova and wound up in the hands of the Cats’ Jermaine Medley. Medley grabbed the ball, spun and shot all in one motion. 

Splash. 

Buzzer Beater. 

Nova Wins! 

The Wildcats scored six points in under four seconds to win in double overtime, 93-90. 

Me, Ryan and his parents jumped with excitement, high-fived and then ran to the parking lot. We had our own game to play. We got from the upper level to the car in record time and we were one of the first cars out of the lot. We just made our CYO game in Lansdale, which for the record, we won.

One of the things that made being at this game so awesome was that the broadcast had a horrible camera angle for Medley’s game winner. ESPN didn’t capture the shot live. When Ryan and I got to our game that night, a teammate couldn’t believe we “were at that game.” He said it wasn’t until replays aired that people at home actually saw what happened.  

Fast forward 17 years. I’m boarding a flight, Charlotte to Philadelphia. Christmas Eve. None-other-than Steve Lappas sits next to me. We get to talking. Incredibly nice guy. I bring up this Nova game. Two things he told me. He knew Celestand had Braswell on that block in the first OT and he still can’t believe how Medley made that circus shot at the end. Neither can I. 

Nova-Georgetown double OT, truly the best game I ever saw.  

The Kris Jenkins shot vs. North Carolina was The Best Game I Ever Saw Live

The Kris Jenkins shot vs. North Carolina was The Best Game I Ever Saw Live

Reuben Frank and Sean Kane both chose the 2016 national championship game between Villanova and North Carolina as the greatest game they ever saw in person. Reuben was there as a reporter, Sean was there as a fan. Here are each of their perspectives. 

Reuben Frank: We're taught from Day 1 as journalists to never let your emotions show, to remain unbiased, and for the first 33 years, six months and 12 days of my career I had a perfect record. Then Kris Jenkins hit a jumper. So much for objectivity. I was court-side at NRG Stadium in Houston - second row, center court - when Jenkins his that 26-footer at the buzzer to give Villanova the 2016 NCAA Championship over North Carolina, and I'm pretty sure that Mike Kern of the Daily News, sitting to my left, and I both stood up and looked at each other and screamed "OHHHHHHHHHHH" at the top of our lungs when the ball splashed through the basket as the buzzer sounded.

Then, as the confetti rained down from the roof and bedlam ensued, Jenkins for some reason ran right in front of me to celebrate and I began taking as many pictures as I could. The Super Bowl was dramatic and unforgettable. But for that Villanova-UNC game I was on top of the action, just a few feet from the court, just a few feet where I lost my cool after 33 years, just a few feet from the greatest shot in college basketball history. 

Sean Kane: This game narrowly edges out Super Bowl 52 and the classic Duke/Kentucky regional final at the Spectrum in 1992. I'm fortunate enough to have been in attendance for arguably the two greatest shots in college basketball history - Christian Laettner's turnaround jumper to beat Kentucky and Kris Jenkins' three-pointer to beat North Carolina. The 2016 national title game is my choice for a number of reasons. Growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs, I've been a Villanova fan for as long as I can remember. My grandfather went to Villanova. My uncle and cousin went there too. I've been going to Villanova basketball and football games since I was a little boy. So to be there to see my favorite team win a national championship at the buzzer? Nothing tops that. 

The 2016 Final Four was the first time I attended a Villanova NCAA Tournament game as a fan. I covered Villanova in the tournament every year from 2006-2009, trying my best to stay objective. But going as a fan was a new experience. My Dad and I decided to go as soon as Villanova beat Kansas in the Elite Eight. My wife immediately got us plane tickets and a hotel room in Houston and we left the morning of the national semifinals. We were there for Villanova's historic 44-point win over Oklahoma on Saturday night, the biggest blowout in Final Four history. The PGA Tour was in Houston that weekend, so we spent Sunday watching golf. It all worked out perfectly. Then the main event - Villanova and North Carolina in the championship game on Monday night. North Carolina had ended Villanova's season in the NCAA Tournament three times during the Jay Wright Era - 2005, 2009 and 2013. But this time was different thanks to Phil Booth's 20 points off the bench and Ryan Arcidiacono finding Jenkins for the win as the buzzer sounded. It was one of the greatest games in college basketball history. It ended with the best shot in NCAA Tournament history. And I was there to see it with my Dad, who raised me as a Villanova fan. That's as good as it gets for me.