Saturday, February 12, 2011
Posted: 11:35 p.m. Updated: Feb. 13, 1:15 a.m.
By Dave Zeitlin
The Pavilion was filled to capacity with loud, crazed Villanova supporters Saturday night, but at least one fan took in a quiet moment of reflection during halftime of the Big East showdown.
They just need to play a calmer half of basketball, Ryan Howard explained, turning to press row.
Villanova did not heed the advice of the Phillies slugger for large chunks of the final 20 minutes. Instead, it was visiting Pitt that looked mostly calm and composed on its way to a 57-54 victory, much to the chagrin of Howard and the rest of Nova Nation.
As such, a day that began with so much excitement as the Nova campus greeted ESPNs College GameDay crew with boisterous cheering ended with the programs 46-game winning streak at the Pavilion coming to a screeching halt.
Theyre a great team and I know theres been a long record of success in this building, Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said. But we were focused on what we had to do and the guys we had to do it with.
Two of those guys made the most of their return to the Philly area as senior Brad Wanamaker, a Roman Catholic alum, finished with 21 points, while Chester native Nasir Robinson added 15.
In front of a large cheering contingent, Wanamaker scored his teams first six points and later made a critical three-point play to give Pitt a 55-49 lead with 2:46 left. The Pitt senior finished the game shooting for 8-for-15 from the field and 5-for-6 from the free throw line.
Our Philly guys Brad and Nasir played like Philly guys, Dixon said. Thats why Ill be going out recruiting in Philadelphia (Sunday) and seeing some games. It was good to see, and Im happy for them because a lot of their family was here.
Villanova sophomore Maalik Wayns, who also played for Roman Catholic, nearly showed up his old teammate in the games final moments.
With the Wildcats trailing by three points with 12.5 seconds left after a steal by Antonio Pena, head coach Jay Wright called a timeout. Dominic Cheek missed a three-pointer, but Maurice Sutton got the rebound and kicked it out to Wayns, who buried a three. Unfortunately for Nova, the shot was released just after the final buzzer sounded.
Maurice Sutton did what he was supposed to do, Wright said. He got the rebound and got it out just a second too late. I wasnt disappointed in that.
If No. 9 Villanova (19-6 overall, 7-5 Big East) had made more shots earlier in the game, it wouldnt have come down to that. But against a suffocating defensive effort from the No. 4 Panthers (23-2, 11-1), the hosts just couldnt get it going, shooting 36 percent from the field and 20 percent from long-range.
Villanova led 32-27 with 16:20 left, but after the Wildcats Isaiah Armwood picked up a technical foul, the Panthers went on a 19-4 run, punctuated by a thunderous dunk from Pitt center Gary McGhee.
To their credit, the Wildcats made it interesting down the stretch on some key plays from Wayns (13 points), Pena (10 points) and Mouphtaou Yarou (15 points, 10 rebounds). They just couldnt do enough to erase the big deficit.
Thats what we do defend, Dixon said. We wanted to do it for 40 minutes and I think we pretty much did. The shots they made were tough shots. They hit some post-up shots we wanted them to take. But we stayed with it for 40 minutes against a very good team.
Both teams were equally shorthanded to begin with as Pitt played without the services of leading scorer Ashton Gibbs (knee) while Nova was missing senior sharpshooter Corey Stokes (toe).
Things later got worse for Villanova, however, when leading scorer Corey Fisher (11 points) fouled out with 4:47 remaining in the game. The foul call that sent Fisher to the bench riled up the Villanova fans, most of who were vocal in their anger toward the refs throughout the night.
Thats probably because, much like Big East games of old, Saturdays highly anticipated, nationally televised matchup turned into a physical, chippy contest from the start.
Now the Wildcats, who have dropped two straight and four of their last six, must pick themselves up and try to heal. They return to action Tuesday night at Seton Hall.
We just have to keep a great attitude, Wayns said. We have to stick together as a team, as a family. Were in it together, through wins and losses.
Our leadership counts a lot on this team, said Pena, a senior whose three-pointer pulled the Cats within three with just under one minute to play. We have to go back to practice and focus on the little thing that need to get done.
E-mail Dave Zeitlin at email@example.com