Providence gave Villanova all they could handle Wednesday night at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, but the Wildcats managed to avoid their second upset in a week, prevailing by the score of 66-57.
The first half included some uncharacteristically sloppy play from the defending national champions. Coming off of a nonconference win versus Virginia where the Wildcats relied heavily on their free throw shooting, ‘Nova went just 0-1 from the charity stripe to go along with 10 turnovers.
Credit the Providence defense though: Their intensity was through the roof as they fed off of the raucous home crowd. Their seven first half steals created flashbacks to their early season defense which was ranked in the Top 10 in the nation. The Friars had trouble capitalizing off of these takeaways however, as they only posted six points off of those turnovers. Villanova seemed to be more intense on the defensive side after giving the ball away at the other end.
Two minutes into the second half, with Villanova leading 37-35, the Friars were dealt a serious blow as Emmitt Holt left the game due to injury. Immediately following the big man’s departure, the Wildcats jumped out to a quick 8-0 run to push their lead up to 10. The Friars were at a loss without Holt, and Jay Wright took full advantage inside. Holt, visibly limping, would return at the 10 minute mark but the damage had been done as ‘Nova was back to playing like ‘Nova.
The Friars began to press with five minutes remaining, forcing the Wildcats out of any clock-draining offense, which allowed PC keep this one within striking distance, even cutting the lead to two with 98 seconds left. However Villanova would ultimately be too much for the Friars. Outmuscling PC for rebounds down the stretch, it was clear who the Top 5 team was, and they wouldn’t be denied.
Villanova was led by Jalen Brunson who posted 21 points and five assists while Josh Hart scored 17 and grabbed eight boards. These are the guys Wright looks toward to step up in close games like this, and they did just that with Brunson taking charge in the final minute.
The Friars were led by freshman Alpha Diallo whose progression has accelerated as this year’s gone on. The combo guard had 18 points in a confidence-boosting performance against the No. 4 team in the country. The scoring fell off for Ed Cooley after that, with Kyron Cartwright posting eight. Scoring 57 points with a score sheet like that won’t get you a win against Villanova.
The Wildcats face St. John’s this Saturday at home while the Friars look towards Seton Hall next Wednesday.