Sure, the Blue Demons had the Wildcats on upset alert in their previous meeting on Dec. 28, when they lost by three at the Pavilion.
This time around, however, No. 2 Villanova left no doubt in a 75-62 victory at the rematch in Allstate Arena. Once the Wildcats struck first off of a Mikal Bridges 3-pointer, they hardly looked back. Once the ‘Cats caught fire, the Blue Demons found themselves quickly on the back burner.
Much of Villanova’s success was a result of its facilitator, Jalen Brunson, who drew a lot of love from the crowd despite being in enemy territory. The Lincolnshire, Ill. native was met with many cheers, playing in front of the city his hometown is nested in.
He delivered in front of the Chicagoland crowd, just as he did playing in his high school days at Adlai E. Stevenson, mustering a game-high 18 point performance, one that he tried to downplay a bit.
“Every game is a big game,” said Brunson, in regards to his approach in preparing for playing in his home state. “Every time I step on the court, I try to be the best I could be.”
The sophomore guard was also a menacing cog in the machine that is Villanova’s defense. He racked up three steals and provided a stingy presence on defense that helped limit DePaul’s backcourt tandem of Billy Garrett Jr. and Eli Cain to a combined 15 points off of 6-of-19 shooting.
“[Ryan] Arcidiacono has been matched by Jalen Brunson’s play,” said DePaul head coach Dave Leitao. "He had fantastic play. I told him after the game that’s how a point guard should play...They haven’t lost a step.”
The Wildcats outscored the Blue Demons 19-8 in the final 10:15 of the first half to take a 39-18 lead at the break.
While DePaul was able to produce a much better second half overall, the deficit was far too great to overcome.
The Blue Demons were able to string a few baskets towards the end, but a revived second half effort led by Chris Harrison-Docks, who finished with 18 points, was not enough.
"We were frozen on offense,” Leitao said. "I told the guys at halftime, the baskets for the most part we got was because we attacked and got into the paint. We didn’t do that as a program, possession by possession."
Three takeaways from the game:
Beat on the Boards, Compensate Elsewhere
For the second straight game, Villanova lost the rebounding battle. With 6-9 senior forward Darryl Reynolds out once again, the Blue Demons were able to hold a 38-32 advantage on the glass. However, just like Villanova’s previous opponent—Xavier--DePaul was unable to capitalize.
Once again, operating predominantly on a smaller lineup (with 6-7 Eric Paschall starting in place of Darryl Reynolds), Villanova exhibited a sense of greater focus in other facets of the game. Just as it did against the Musketeers, it got bullied helplessly on the glass, but the Wildcats did not let themselves get beat elsewhere.
Defensively, they were sharp, quickly making up for the deficit on the boards. In the first half, DePaul was held to shooting just 7-of-25 (28 percent) on the floor and a meager 1-of-11 (9.1 percent) from deep. The first 20 minutes of the game were integral in allowing Villanova to pull away and control the game early and led to DePaul’s demise.
Offensively, the Wildcats saw four different players reach double figures—Brunson, Josh Hart (16 points), Mikal Bridges (15), and Kris Jenkins (13). While they cooled off a bit in the second half, the damage was already done.
Dylan Painter Time
Reynolds’ recent injury seemingly forced Villanova into a 6-man rotation. This thin bench is something that hasn’t been characteristic of the Wildcats’ recent squads, especially the ones in recent memory that revitalized the program after an abysmal 2011-12 season.
Although Dylan Painter made an appearance in the Xavier game, his three minute appearance was more than forgettable and the Wildcats virtually worked with just one man coming off of the bench. Against DePaul, the 6-10 Hershey native saw an increase in playing time. While not a dramatic increase in time, the 13 minutes he logged on Monday night was the most this season.
He’s still a work in progress, but it’s clear that Jay Wright would like to not operate on such a short rotation. He scored just two points on his one and only shot take of the night and collected four rebounds. Despite this, he seemed pretty competent and full of energy on defense. Just like the Reynolds injury, Painter’s development will be interesting to watch for in the weeks to come.
With the loss, DePaul has not won a Big East game since Jan. 10, when it took down Providence at home. In fact, it’s the only game in conference play that it has won this season.
“Each game becomes a different and difficult challenge,” Leitao said. "Each game in this league is tough. You play teams you have to beat, they don’t beat themselves."
Monday’s loss extends the Blue Demons’ losing streak to eight games, and it’s not about to get any easier. Coming up next for DePaul is a two-game road trip that starts at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Sunday, and then a clash with Georgetown at the Verizon Center on Jan. 22.
Not only is DePaul looking to end this streak of losing, but it is also searching for its first win on the road this season. The Blue Demons currently hold an 0-10 record when playing at venues not named the Allstate Arena, this includes three losses in neutral site games.