PHILADELPHIA, PA. 12/18/2012 – The Villanova Wildcats came into this game with much going against them. The Wildcats lost their last outing at South Florida., and four of their last five game. Added to that was they would play this game without Junior guard Maalik Wayns, their leading scorer, and Sophomore guard James Bell. Villanova would meet the nationally ranked Fighting Irish of Notre Dame winners of their last seven games, tied for second place in the Big East. How does Villanova respond? They responded w ith great effort taking a big first half lead. The lead evaporated in the second half, but a last second follow-up basket by Villanova sent the game into overtime. But Notre Dame hit consecutive threes in overtime to take control earning a 74 – 70 win at the Wells Fargo Center. The loss was attributable to Notre Dame making the key play while Villanova could not. Usually the game is decided simply by making a basket at the right time.
“It was a tough loss and a game you wish you never had to experience,” said Villanova Coach Jay Wright. “Notre Dame made every big shot down the stretch and we missed every big shot. We got good shots, we just missed them. The did a great job pressuring. I think that got the game close. We had the shots to win a close game. If you are a real good team you win that game by 16 or 18. If you are a struggling team that can make plays at the end then you can win it, but we couldn’t make the shots. They did and I have to give them credit. They executed better than us down the stretch.”
In the first half Villanova trailed by 10 – 5 with 16:15 to play in the half. The Wildcats went on 28 – 5 run over the next 12 minutes to take a commanding 33 – 15 lead. During that stretch Villanova held Notre Dame scoreless for over 6 minutes, then gave up just 3 points over the next 7 minutes. Meanwhile the Wildcats worked the ball to Redshirt Freshman forward JayVaughn Pinkston who scored 10 points in the run. Junior guard Dominic Cheek got openings on the outside and converted two three-pointers and a layup. The Wildcats lead grew to as many as 20 points.
The tide turned in the second half. Villanova kept a double-digit lead for the first nine minutes of the half, and held a 54 – 44 lead with 5:45 to play. Notre Dame turned up the defensive intensity and began to get to the basket. The Irish went on a 13 – 2 run to get a 57 – 56 lead on a three-point play by guard Eric Atkins. Forward Mouphtaou Yarou missed a tip that Notre Dame rebounded and moved down the court hitting a 24 foot three-point shot by guard Jerian Grant to take a 60 – 56 lead with 59.9 seconds to play. Cheek was fouled with 47.8 seconds on the clock. He converted both to bring Villanova within a possession. The Wildcats turned up the defense. As the shot clock wound down on Notre Dame, Grant put up a long three with 2 seconds on the shot clock. Pinkston corralled the rebound then after a timeout Villanova set up for the last possession. Freshman guard Ty Johnson took a 8 foot jumper that missed with 2.8 seconds left. There was a scramble for the rebound that Junior forward Maurice Sutton got and make the follow-up with .9 seconds sending the game into overtime.
“We go out and play,” said Sutton. “That’s the bottom line. We go out and try to play Villanova basketball. We try to play harder than each team. We don’t look at records; we just look at the next team.”
In overtime the game kept its back and forth nature. The game was tied at 65. Notre Dame got a three-pointer from Grant and followed that with shot from beyond the arc by forward Patrick Connaughton. Center Jack Cooley made two free throws to complete an 8 – 0 run and gave the Irish control of the game.
“The second half we did a better job rebounding the basketball and keeping them to one and done situations,” said Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey about how his team turned the tide. “They crushed us on the offensive boards early. We had a little bit of a look we had at Louisville and West Virginia where we were coming back. I used that as a reference point. I said let’s play fearlessly with nothing to lose. We made big shots. I’m really proud of our group. After they beat Syracuse I talked to them about striving to be special. I told them tonight, I think we are special. I really do. It was a great win for a group that believes in itself.”
Villanova played with great effort. It showed on the rebounding chart as the Wildcats had 47 rebounds, 16 offensive, to 37 for the Irish. It was the shooting percentage and turnovers which turned the game in the direction of Notre Dame. Villanova made 5 – 21 (23.8%) in the second half compared to 12 -33 (36.4%) for the visitors. From the three-point line in the half Notre Dame was 6 – 15 (40%) to 1 – 6 (16.7%) for Villanova. The Wildcats turned the ball over 12 times leading to 17 Irish points. Notre Dame had 7 turnovers that led to 5 Villanova points. The Irish made the Wildcats pay for their miscues.
“It was just the little things, the little things on defense.” said Pinkston about the difference in the game. “We have to rotate better. It was just basically the little things, on offense and defense.”
Pinkston led all scorers with 24 points. Cheek added 19 and Sutton scored 12. Pinkston took down 10 rebounds and Yarou had a team-high 11 boards. Johnson distributed 7 assists.
Connaughton 21 points to lead his team. Cooley scored 18 points and had a game-high 13 rebounds. Atkins scored 17 points and had 5 assists while Grant had 10 points and 9 assists. For the game Notre Dame had 20 assists on their 25 field goals.
Notre Dame is now on an 8 game winning streak and have a 19 – 8 records, 11 – 3 in conference. The Irish prepare for a home contest against West Virginia.
Villanova drops to 11 – 15, 4 – 10 in the Big East. The Wildcats are tied for 14th place in conference 2 games out of the Big East basement. They entertain Connecticut on Monday.
Villanova showed heart in this game. The Wildcats also gave us a glimpse of the future as a very young squad played the Irish eye to eye into overtime. It’s a learning experience.
“We’re paying our dues,” Wright said.
Written By: Glenn Papazian