PHILADELPHIA, PA. 2/29/2020 – The 12th ranked Villanova Wildcats took the floor tied for second place in the Big East. The opposition was the Providence Friars who were in fourth place two games behind the Wildcats. The expectation was for a tough, hard nosed battle, and that’s what it was. The Friars came away with a 58 – 54 win over the Wildcats. That is what you get it this league.
“It was a tough Big East battle,” said Villanova Coach Jay Wright. “We had one Wednesday night. We didn’t perform well enough and they did.”
Providence held Villanova to 35.1% shooting (20 of 57) and 5 of 30 from beyond the arc. The Friars were not much better (17 of 48) at 35.4%. They were 5 of 13 from distance. Each team made 5 threes, but the Wildcats took more to get there.
Providence also had an answer in fifth year guard Luwane Pipkins who scored 27 points, a Big East career-high. He made 7 of 13 from the floor, 4 of 8 from beyond the arc, and was 9 of 10 from the free throw line. Pipkins was clutch closing out the game. He scored 11 of the last 15 points for the Friars making 7 of 8 free throws and sinking the last two baskets for the team.
In the first half Providence took a 30 – 18 lead into intermission. It was the fewest points scored in a half by Villanova, and was also the least points allowed by the visitors. Providence made their last four shots going into halftime and Nova was 1 of 11.
Game over? No way.
The Wildcats made a charge in the second half as expected. Staying in proximity despite losing leading scorer Saddiq Bey who fouled out, the Cats stayed within striking distance. At the 1:56 mark Jeremiah Robinson-Earl made a follow up dunk to bring Nova to within 48 – 46. Pipkins answered with a jumper and two free throws, and Villanova got no closer than four points the rest of the way.
“We had our chances,” Wright said about climbing uphill. “In a Big East game, you pull it out by one and everyone’s happy. When you get a win you forget about how tough that was. They were tougher.”
Collin Gillespie led the Wildcats with 13 points, playing with a bruised thigh. He was 5 of 14 from the floor and made 1 of 3 from distance. What made the Friar defense so tough?
“Their length, they’re physical, they’re solid,” Gillespie said. “They’re a tough, physical team.
Bey added 11 points. Robinson-Earl recorded a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
For the Friars Maliek White added 15 points.
“Anytime you can come into the building and get a win against a team like Villanova, you’re guys are doing well,” said Providence Coach Ed Cooley. “Pipkins made some big shots and played well late.”
The Friars improve to 17 – 12 overall and are 10 – 6 in conference, a game-behind the Wildcats. Providence has won the last five times they played teams ranked in the Top-25. Cooley credits the league for that accomplishment.
“If Providence has won five straight top 25 teams, that tells you how strong our league is from top to bottom,” Cooley said. “I’m proud of the league to afford us that opportunity. The power of the Big East is really strong night in and night out.”
Villanova (22 – 7, 11 – 5) falls to third place temporarily. The Wildcats will end the regular season on the road at Seton Hall and Georgetown. The first place Pirates are next in a game at Newark. Another rough one is expected.
“This is a bump in the road,” said Wright. “It doesn’t get any easier going against one of the best teams in the country next. That’s the Big East.”
Written By: Glenn Papazian