VILLANOVA, PA. 12/4/2013 – The 14th ranked Villanova Wildcats were coming off their Battle for Atlantis Championship that gave them a national ranking. The question coming is was would they have the focus to defeat their city rival University of Pennsylvania Quakers? In the first half Villanova was ready. The Wildcats would need that good start because in the second half their offense would desert them. However, Villanova had enough to beat Penn 77 – 54 at the Pavilion.
“We certainly didn’t play a pretty game,” said Villanova Coach Jay Wright. “But when that happens, it’s always the other team who plays well. We were a little bit off our game, but they were really good. They executed, they played harder than us so we don’t look good. I think we had bigger players and made some shots and some plays. But I give them credit.”
“I think we have certain players who can just take over. Darrun [Hilliard] at points, JayVaughn [Pinkston] at points, [James Bell] at points. They’ve got some younger guys. We’ve got some older guys that when they want to turn it on, can go turn it on. I think that’s what happened. That’s not a good plan for success.”
Villanova got off to an early roll scoring the first 11 points of the game. Leading 14 – 6 the Wildcats broke out with a 17 – 3 run to take a 31 – 9 lead with 8:06 remaining in the first half. Penn made a comeback getting five consecutive three-pointers, four by senior guard Miles Jackson-Cartwright who led the Red and Blue with 17 points in the game. As a team the Blue and White made 12 of 29 field goal attempts (41.4%) and connected on 8 of 18 from beyond the arc. Junior guard Darrun Hilliard led the way scoring 13 of his game-high 19 points in the opening twenty minutes. Penn connected on 11 of 33, 5 of 9 from distance, but 10 turnovers led to a 16 – 8 edge in points off turnovers for Villanova who took a 46 – 28 lead into the locker room.
It was quite different in the second half. Villanova did not get their first basket until the 9:55 mark on a layup by Hilliard. The Red and Blue battled back cutting the gap to 56 – 48 on a jumper by sophomore guard Julian Harrell with 7:07 to play. But the Quakers would get no closer. The Wildcats closed the game with a 21 – 6 run. Villanova was not scoring, but their defensive effort, while not consistent, allowed them to keep separation.
“We did a decent job defensively, I didn’t think we were horrible.” Wright said. “We had a lot of good possessions defensively but you put up three possessions and then give up an easy basket. Put up three possessions and they get an offensive rebound. It just wasn’t consistent every possession.”
“When the (Villanova) lead was at nine, we had four consecutive stops,” said Penn Coach Jerome Allen on his team’s inability to get the game closer. “You can’t give possessions away. Out of those four possessions, two of them we had unforced turnovers. That’s unfortunate but we’ll learn from it. There’s some things I’m willing to live with so that we could live for tomorrow. With that being said, you can’t play Division I basketball and continue to give teams opportunity after opportunity. Eventually, they’re going to score the ball.”
Three other Villanova players scored in double figures. Senior guard James Bell had 14 points and 8 rebounds, while junior forward JayVaughn Pinkston scored 13. Redshirt sophomore guard Dylan Ennis added 11. Penn sophomore center Darien Nelson-Henry scored 12 points and added 7 rebounds. Freshman guard Tony Bagtas scored 7 points, had a game-high 9 assists, and earned the praise of Allen.
“I thought he was great,” Allen said. “I thought he played at the right pace and I thought he didn’t necessarily allow them to rush him. He tried to cover the objective. He had nine assists and six rebounds. I thought that he tried to make winning plays for us and he’s only going to get better.”
Villanova knows Big Five games can be crazy, and this one fits that mold. However, the Wildcats had enough to stay unbeaten at 8 – 0. The Blue and White play another one of those games on Saturday at Saint Joseph’s. The Villanova players heard the wake-up call.
“I don’t think the Bahamas gave us a big head, but you can’t look past anyone,” Hilliard said. “Penn is a good team. It’s a good learning experience. We’re going to get back to work tomorrow and get ready to play Saturday.”
Written By: Glenn Papazian