PHILADLEPHIA, PA. 12/1/2018 – Welcome to December. The month begins with a Big Five game at the Palestra between the #23 Villanova Wildcats and the La Salle Explorers. It is the city series opener for Villanova and second game of the local rivalry for La Salle. Welcome back to a Big Five thriller at the Palestra. Nova wins it 85 – 78 in a game much closer than the final score indicated.
There was some magic in the air. An upset seemed possible. The Explorers were within a possession with just over a minute to play at 79 – 76. But the experience of the nationally ranked Nova team took over down the stretch as they made 5 of 6 free throws to stay in front, and gave up just one more basket.
“It’s a Big Five game, what can I say?,” said Villanova Coach Jay Wright. “It’s exciting. It’s a special experience. Once the game comes crazy things are going to happen and you try to prepare our team for that. Our young guys got a taste of that in this game.”
From the start it was apparent that no team was going to run away with the win. The Explorers were without three players including leading scorer Pookie Powell and top rebounder Jared Kimbrough. Guard Traci Carter stepped in to score a team-high 17 points. In the first half La Salle had six consecutive three-point baskets to take a 12-point lead with just under four and a half minutes to halftime. Villanova answered with three in a row from beyond the arc to stay in contention and the 13 – 4 run got them to within 42 – 39 at intermission.
“That offensive run was really important,” Wright said.
Nova would get ahead at the 12:44 mark on a four-point play by Saddiq Bey followed by a traditional three-point score by Eric Paschall who scored a season-high 27 points. It seemed like the Cats had control. But, with just under 6 minutes to play the Explorers got to within a single point twice, but each time the Wildcats had an answer.
“A tough game, a classic Big Five battle where you have the defending national champions playing a team battling to get better and get their first win,” said La Salle Coach Ashley Howard. “All of that goes out the window. It was a dogfight to the end.”
In addition to Paschall Villanova had two other double-figures scorers in Phil Booth with 19 and Collin Gillespie who posted 15 points and a team-best 5 assists. The experienced players showed the way, just like they learned in previous years.
“We knew they were going to make runs,” Booth said. “We knew they were going to make shots. This happens. You have to play hard and go after it.”
Carter added 8 assists to his total. Isaiah Deas scored 15 points. Sophomore David Beatty contributed 12 points and 7 rebounds.
Both teams shot over 50% for the game.
The Wildcats (5 – 2, 1 – 0) have won the last five Big Five Championships. This game was the first of four consecutive city series games on the schedule. These teams met last year at the Wells Fargo Center with Nova coming away with a 77 – 68 victory, the closest local game for the Cats. That was then. This is now. Explorers Coach Ashley Howard was an assistant at Villanova under Jay Wright. He is on the opposing bench.
La Salle (0 – 7, 0 – 2) is looking for their first win of the season. With efforts such as this one, it will come.
Written By: Glenn Papazian