VILLANOVA, PA. 12/11/12 – For those who thought that the tradition of the Big Five upset was a thing of the past, and that the conference play took away from the intensity of our local tradition. Those who felt that it didn’t matter as much anymore were shown wrong. It did matter to Villanova, it mattered to Saint Joseph’s, and it got through to the crowd when Villanova Junior guard James Bell made a three from the left wing with 28 seconds on the clock to give the Wildcats a 63 – 61 lead. Nova played tough defense down the stretch forcing two Saint Joe’s timeouts, then forced a turnover that allowed the Wildcats to upset Saint Joseph’s 65 – 61 at The Pavilion.
Villanova was the young, up and coming team, still learning, still growing. They were going up against a more experienced Saint Joseph’s team. The underdog was on their home court. Big Five upsets of this type have happened before. The upset happened again. Villanova Coach Jay Wright was thrilled with the win, and saw the win as a building block for his team.
“You can talk about those situations all you want to, but until you do it together you don’t have anything to build on,” said Wright. “We needed to go through a game like this. The execution, the guts down the stretch for this team is something we need to do because we haven’t been good at it. That is big for us and something we can build on.”
Wright likes to say that Big Five games are crazy. Tonight, Wright was right. The game was close throughout. There were 15 lead changes and 7 ties. Saint Joseph’s held the lead late, but Villanova was never far behind. At the 9:50 mark Saint Joseph’s junior forward Halil Kanacevic made a three to give the Hawks a 50 – 47. Kanacevic also gave a show of exuberance which earned the ire of the Nova Nation. Now the crowd was as into the game as the competitors. With 7:05 to play Saint Joseph’s senior guard Carl Jones made a three to out the Hawks back in front 54 – 53. The teams traded one point leads until a free throw by Villanova sophomore forward Achraf Yacoubou tied the game at 56. Hawks Junior forward Ronald Roberts gave his team a lead with two free throws. At the 2:29 mark Villanova got a steal from freshman forward Daniel Ochefu late in the shot clock. But sophomore guard Chris Wilson stole it back for the Hawks. After a review by the officials Saint Joseph’s was awarded a fresh 35 second shot clock. The Hawks took advantage of the break by getting a three to get their largest lead of the half at 61 – 56 with 2:13 to play. It turned out to be the last points of the game for Saint Joe’s.
The Wildcats fought back to within a point at 61 – 60. Kanacevic went to the free throw line with 45.8 seconds remaining. He missed both setting up the game-winning possession when Bell nailed the shot from beyond the arc.
“Coach called a play in the huddle and I was the last look on the play,” said Bell. “He puts me in great positions to do what I do best. I just had to step up.”
“It’s a big feeling, but Coach says the highs can’t be too high and the lows can’t be too low. I was worried about getting back (on defense).”
The game was far from over. Saint Joseph’s looked for the best shot, but had to use two timeouts to set up the offense Coach Phil Martelli wanted. After the second timeout Kanacevic tried to inbound the ball. Seeing nothing open Kanacevic tried to bounce the ball off Villanova defender Maurice Sutton. He did, but the ball came back and hit Kanacevic while he was still out of bounds causing a turnover. After being fouled Bell made two free throws for the final margin of victory. At the end the ability to make plays was an important sign of improvement for Wright. Martelli saw the loss as a result of numbers and Villanova had the better numbers.
“The game is always in the numbers,” said Martelli. “Pick anyone you want 47 shots to 61, 18 turnovers from a veteran group, 15 offensive rebounds allowed, 68% from the foul line. It’s just a numbers game. We talked about the turnovers in our last two games, more turnovers than assists. We have too many skilled players for that to be the case, the turnovers and the decisions.”
In the end the young Wildcats had a great learning experience earning the win.
“It’s so much fun being in these games,” said Wright. “You’ve got to give credit to Saint Joe’s in this environment for hanging (in there). Sometimes what makes you good is playing against a great opponent. You learn from a great opponent. They had a lot of guts, and didn’t go away. It’s a great win for us, and I think we learned a lot in this game.”
It was also a lesson for the Hawks.
“End of the semester, and that was the final exam,” Martelli said. “We give ourselves a failure for that, and we’ll take the next test starting tomorrow.”
And it was a chance to enjoy another upset in Big Five lore.
Written By: Glenn Papazian