PHILADELPHIA, PA. 1/29/2017 – It was a tale of two haves for the Villanova Wildcats who were outplayed in the opening half, then put on a furious rally in the second. The comeback was capped when guard Donte DiVincenzo put back a Josh Hart miss at the buzzer to give Villanova a 61- 59 win over the Virginia Cavaliers in front of 20,907, the largest crowd for a collegiate game in the Wells Fargo Center. It was the only basket of the game for DiVincenzo, but what a big one.
“It was cool,” Hart said about witnessing the final play. “I had a different view. I was on the ground. I looked up and saw the ball on the rim. I thought Mikal (Bridges) tipped it in, but I saw everyone run to Donte, so I did too. I was so happy. It was a great Villanova basketball game.”
The top-ranked Villanova Wildcats took a break from Big East conference games. The 12th ranked Virginia Cavaliers, who defeated Villanova last season, are hardly considered a respite. And the Wildcats were looking to avoid back to back losses after being downed by Marquette earlier this week. The game was expected to be a grind, and it was more so for the Villanova offense through 32 minutes plus. Leading scorers Hart and Kris Jenkins did not have basket. The Wildcats could get going and trailed 49 – 37 with 9:58 left.
The game turned when Nova ramped up the defense then Hart hit a three followed by a pair of three-pointers by Jenkins to start the rally.
“You know he is going to get one, then it’s going to come again,” Wright said about Jenkins. “He got one and now we are all fired up. The building exploded when he made those shots.”
“When they get it going, it’s like the cavalry came in. That’s the way it was.”
Jalen Brunson gave Villanova the lead at 50 – 49 with two free throws. The run was 13 – 0.
On the see-saw from there. A follow by Bridges tied the game at 57, then Brunson gave Villanova a two-point lead. Ty Jerome, who had a team-high 15 points, answered for Virginia tying the game at 59 with 15 seconds to play. The Cats called time and set up the final play that did not fit the script, but it was a great ending for them.
“We played long stretches of good basketball,” said Virginia Coach Tony Bennett. “But we had just enough breakdowns to not be able to come away with a victory.”
In the second half Nova shot 13 – 18 (72.2%) and made all six three-point attempts.
The Cavaliers held the Wildcats offense in check in the first half. Villanova missed their first eight shots to start the game. They ended the half missing nine of ten field goal attempts, and scored no field goals over the last 6:27. As a team Nova went 4 of 22 from the floor (18.2%). The factor that kept Villanova in contention was hitting 13 of 14 free throws. They finished the game making 20 of 24 from the stripe.
Bridges and Brunson led Villanova in scoring with 15 points each. Brunson was 9 – 10 from the line. Hart finished with 12 points. Marial Shayok scored 14 points for the Cavs 16 – 4, 6 – 2), and Isaiah Wilkins added 12.
Villanova (20 – 2, 7- 2) returns to Big East play travelling to Providence on Wednesday.
The Wildcats got another one at a sold out Center that had a March feeling to it..
“You get down, you’re not surprised because you are playing a great team,” Wright said. “You might get away with this in this game, but when you play the best teams, you’re not. And they were saying that to each other.”
Written By: Glenn Papazian