VILLANOVA, November 15, 2011 – The Big Five started early this season, and it has given the fans two overtime games in two days. This evening’s thriller saw the Villanova Wildcats rally from five points down with 1:22 to play in regulation to earn a 76 – 69 win over the La Salle Explorers in front of 6,500 fans at the Pavilion.
The game was hard-fought and intense. It was not a pretty game, but Big Five games are decided by heart and desire. Philly games of this nature are decided by the guards who step up in these situations. Villanova had Junior Guard Maalik Wayns, Junior Guard Dominic Cheek, and Freshman Guard Darrun Hilliard make the big plays to decide the issue. Villanova Coach Jay Wright saw their play as the reason for the win.
“I thought their guards (La Salle’s backcourt) played great the entire game,” said Wright. “At the end of the game Maalik made big shots, Hillard came up with a huge steal, and Dominic Cheek rebounding and playing great defense on Mills in the second half was the difference for us. Our guards did a great job down the stretch.”
La Salle held 59 – 54 lead on a jump shot by Sophomore Guard Tyreek Duren. Wayns started the comeback with 2 free throws, then buried a deep three-pointer with 1:10 remaining to get the Wildcats to within two at 61 – 59. The Explorers prepared to inbound the ball with 1:01 in regulation. The pass from La Salle Senior Guard Earl Pettis was stolen by Villanova Freshman Guard Darrun Hilliard who streaked to the basket making the game-tying lay up.
“We didn’t get the ball in the hands of our best players on two key possessions,” said La Salle Coach John Giannini. “We had some good players who deferred at the worst time possible.”
In the overtime period Wayns made a jumper and a three to give Villanova a 68 – 63 lead. Wayns had a team-high 22 points, 18 of which came after halftime. He was a perfect 10 for 10 from the free throw line, made 5 pf 16 from the field, and had 9 rebounds and 4 assists. Wayns took control of the game at the end, but cited this as a team win.
“It was good for my teammates to see that,” said Wayns. It was good for my teammates to see me try to lead them, and get a good win. Not trying to do it by myself. I’ve got great teammates. It just wasn’t me down the stretch it was a team effort.”
Cheek closed out the scoring for the Wildcats converting 8 consecutive free throws. Cheek scored 18 points, 12 of 14 from the free throw line, and pulled down 8 rebounds. Although he mad only 4 of 12 field goal attempts the true contribution from Cheek was his late defensive effort on La Salle Sophomore Guard Sam Mills who scored 13 points in the first half, but was limited to 6 for the rest of the game. Mills made his 4 three-point shots in the first half. For Cheek it was a well-rounded game.
“If my shot is not falling, I am going to do what my coach and my teammates expect me to do which is rebound and play defense,” Cheek said. “We just stuck to the game plan which was deny him (Mills), and he took less shots in the second half.”
Villanova Junior Center Mouphtaou Yarou has a double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds. Sophomore Guard James Bell added 15 points. Villanova out-rebounded La Salle 50 – 35, and had a 34 – 8 advantage in made free throws.
La Salle was led in scoring by Sophomore Guard Tyreek Duren who had a game-high in points with 24, a career mark, and assists with 5. Duren made 8 of 17 shots and was 7 – 7 from the free throw line. Mills scored a career best 19 points, 13 in the first half. Pettis scored 12 points and pulled down 9 rebounds. The Explorers had 10 steals and forced 20 Wildcat turnovers.
Villanova escapes with the win. La Salle had an opportunity to score a big upset. The effort was there, but the Explorers came away with a crushing defeat.
“This is as difficult a loss that I’ve had since becoming a head coach,” Giannini lamented. “The reason why is we played well, we defended, we were up against an outstanding opponent on their home court where they rarely lose. We were up 5 with under two minutes left, so it’s obviously, incredibly painful, and difficult to not win that game.”
Written By: Glenn Papazian