'Nova struggles, loses big to No. 23 St. Johns

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'Nova struggles, loses big to No. 23 St. Johns

Saturday, February 26, 2011
Posted: 4:31 p.m. Updated: 6:20 p.m.
By Dave ZeitlinCSNPhilly.com contributor

BOX SCORE

St. Johns was so adept at scoring Saturday that the Red Storm even made one basket on the wrong end.

But that gift an accidental tip-in from St. Johns senior D.J. Kennedy in the first half couldnt help Villanova stay with the explosive Red Storm as the Wildcats lost a Big East matinee at the Wells Fargo Center, 81-68.

No. 23 St. Johns (19-9 overall, 11-5 Big East), which recently earned its first national ranking in 11 years, has now won eight of its last nine games and is peaking at the right time.

And then theres Villanova, which continues to plummet down the Big East standings. With Saturdays loss, the No. 15 Wildcats (21-8, 9-7) have lost seven of their last 12.

I think St. Johns is playing as well as anyone in the country right now, Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. Theyre well-coached. They play smart, tough, unselfish. I think they have a great feel for how they can win games right now, and thats one of the things were struggling with. Were not clicking.

At the beginning of the season, few would have predicted that St. Johns would be ahead of Villanova in the Big East pecking order. Even fewer would have guessed that after the Wildcats won 16 of their first 17 games and looked like one of the best teams in the nation, let alone the conference.

But in a loaded league where as many as 11 teams could make the NCAA tournament, Wright understands how quickly things can change.

I feel like were getting, believe it or not, a little bit better but not good enough for this league, the Villanova coach said. I dont think were getting worse. If we didnt play Syracuse, St. Johns, Pitt, then maybe it might show. But its not good enough right now in this league.

Against the red-hot Red Storm, Villanova looked overmatched at times.

Through the first four minutes, St. Johns was in the process of an even larger demolition than what took place next door at the Building Formerly Known as The Spectrum, jumping out to an 18-4 lead on the strength of four three-pointers.

Thanks in large part to the hot hand of reserve guard Dominic Cheek (11 points), the Wildcats clawed back into the game, trailing only 41-36 at the half. But Villanova never could take the lead, despite a few chances to do so after the break.

St. Johns, which pressed on defense and attacked on offense throughout the afternoon, continued to put the pressure on in the final couple of minutes to force timely Nova turnovers, gobble up a couple of key offensive rebounds off missed free throws, and run away with its first road win against a nationally ranked team since 2002.

The closest the 'Cats came was when they pulled within one at 65-64 with four minutes left on a traditional three-point play from Maalik Wayns, who got the start.

They kept playing, Wayns said of St. Johns. Theyve got a lot of senior leaders whove been through that. Theyve lost tough games and theyve won tough games. That wasnt anything new to them. They kept a great attitude and put up a good win.

Wayns finished with 19 points, while fellow guard Corey Stokes led the way for Nova with 20 points on 6-for-10 shooting from three-point range.

But that was nothing compared to St. Johns guard Dwight Hardy, who was absolutely sensational for the Red Storm. Hardy finished with 34 points, which included a crucial, off-balance jumper that gave his team a 70-64 lead with 2:20 remaining.

Hardy, whos averaging a team-best 17.3 points per game, shot 9-for-16 from the floor, 5-for-9 from three-point range and 11-for-13 from the foul line.

We tried to trap him, we tried to deny him, we went a little zone, Wright said. Hes just awesome. Hes playing great. And whats really interesting about him is he doesnt turn the ball over. Hes got the ball all the time at the end of the shot clock and he ends the game with one turnover. Hes awesome.

Hes a killer, added Stokes. Coach Wright always tells me, (Corey) Fisher, Maalik, and Cheek to be a killer. Hes a killer.

While the Red Storms leading scorer had a game to remember, Villanovas leading scorer, Corey Fisher, had one hed like to forget. The Cats senior guard mustered just two points, shooting a dreadful 1-for-10 from the field and 0-for-8 from three-point range.

To his credit, Fisher had seven assists to go with one turnover, but his poor shooting performance comes on the heels of a 3-for-16 night against Syracuse on Monday. When asked what was wrong with his star guard, Wright repeated the phrase I dont know three times. But he hopes the shooting slump will end.

The best thing we can do is tell him to keep shooting, Wright said. We have confidence in him. Were going to ride him.

Fisher and Villanova will get a chance for redemption in just two days as the Wildcats take on No. 9 Notre Dame in a Big Monday battle in South Bend. Villanova then has another road game against a Top 10 team next Saturday vs. No. 4 Pitt before the Big East tournament begins.

In other words, things wont get any easier for the slumping 'Cats.

The good thing about the Big East is you get a chance to play Big East teams, Wright said. I would like us to be playing better right now obviously. But I do see a little improvement. I would like to see even more in our next two games, win or lose.
E-mail Dave Zeitlin at djzeitlin@gmail.com

Temple at No. 19 Navy: Owls go for first AAC title

Temple at No. 19 Navy: Owls go for first AAC title

Temple (9-3, 7-1 AAC) at No. 19 Navy (9-2, 7-1 AAC)
Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, Md.​
Saturday, noon, ABC

It would have been hard to picture Temple in the American Athletic Conference championship game after the Owls’ first game of the season, a 28-13 loss to Army.

But that’s exactly where they are three months later, as Temple will take on No. 19 Navy in the conference championship game Saturday.

The Owls and Midshipmen have both been handling opponents as of late. Temple’s won its last four games by at least three touchdowns, while Navy has outscored opponents 141-62 in its past two games.

Let’s take a look at how one of the country’s top offenses and one of the country’s top defenses match up.

Scouting Temple
The Owls' defense seems to get better every week. Temple ranks No. 3 in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total defense and No. 10 in scoring defense. The only two teams that rank higher than the Owls in both categories are Alabama and Michigan.

Teams haven’t scored more than 13 points against the Owls in their last four games, and Temple is outscoring opponents 123-23 during that stretch.

Redshirt senior defensive lineman Haason Reddick was named a first team all-conference selection earlier this week. He leads the FBS in tackles for loss. Redshirt senior Praise Martin-Oguike is coming off one of his best games of the season last week against East Carolina, in which he had two sacks, including a forced fumble. He has seven sacks this season.

On offense, Temple’s goal this week will be to sustain drives and keep Navy’s offense off the field. The Owls are currently No. 5 in the FBS in time of possession, holding the ball for more than 34 minutes per game.

Earlier in the week, coach Matt Rhule said senior quarterback Phillip Walker was questionable for Saturday’s game. Walker will likely play, but the Owls might be without one of their top offensive weapons.

Rhule said sophomore running back Ryquell Armstead is doubtful. Armstead has 842 yards and 13 touchdowns this season.

Scouting Navy
The Midshipmen have one of the simplest — yet at that same time one of the best — offenses in the country. Navy ranks No. 2 in rushing yards at 342 per game.

Quarterback Will Worth runs the triple option for Navy. He has 2,544 total yards of offense and 33 total touchdowns. He’s passed for 1,363 yards and rushed for 1,181 more. Worth has a touchdown in 11 straight games.

Worth has attempted 258 rushes compared to 115 passing attempts. Four other Navy players have at least 40 rushing attempts this season.

Senior wide receiver Jamir Tillman is the Midshipmen’s best receiving threat. The 6-foot-4 wideout has 32 catches for 533 yards and two touchdowns.

Navy’s defense hasn’t been quite as elite as its offense. The Midshipmen have allowed 30 or more points in four of their last five games.

The Midshipmen are allowing 265 passing yards per game. Opposing quarterbacks have averaged 313 yards and three touchdowns in their last three contests.

Storyline to watch: Can Temple find a way to stop the triple option?
The last time these two teams played was in 2014, when Navy ran for 487 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-24 win over the Owls at Lincoln Financial Field. Temple’s most recent matchup against the triple option was when it lost to Army in its season opener. The Black Knights ran for 329 yards and four touchdowns. With only a week to prepare, Temple will have to find a way to cure its option woes if it wants a chance to win Saturday (see story).

What’s at stake?
The Owls have won only one other conference championship in program history, when they won the Mid-Atlantic Conference in 1967. A win would also give Temple its third 10-win season in program history. 

Prediction
Temple has to figure out this option thing at some point, right? The Owls’ ability to convert on third down and sustain long drives will help slow Navy's offense. This one will most likely come down to who has the ball last, but the Owls are a little bit more well-rounded, so they get the edge. 

Temple 31, Navy 28

Villanova at South Dakota State: Trying to extend Andy Talley's career another week

Villanova at South Dakota State: Trying to extend Andy Talley's career another week

No. 9 Villanova (9-3, 6-2 CAA) at No. 7 South Dakota State (8-3, 7-1 MVFC)
Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium, Brookings, S.D.
Saturday, 3 p.m., ESPN3

Villanova will look to extend legendary head coach Andy Talley’s career at least another week as the Wildcats travel to South Dakota for a second-round FCS playoff matchup.

Here’s a look at what’s on tap:

Scouting Villanova
Led by a dominant defense and a balanced rushing attack, the Wildcats returned to the FCS playoffs for the sixth time in nine years, earning an at-large bid after finishing tied for second in the CAA behind James Madison. Villanova opened its playoff run with a 31-21 home victory over Saint Francis last week after building a 24-point halftime lead behind three first-half touchdown passes from Zach Bednarczyk, two of which went to junior tight end Ryan Bell. As usual, star defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon (more on him here) led the defense with a career-high 2½ of the team’s six total sacks. On the season, the Wildcats rank in the top eight in the FCS in six different defensive categories and have held the opposition to just 15.4 points per game — second in the country. On offense, Aaron Forbes, Matt Gudzak and Javon White have all been productive rushers while splitting carries in the backfield, along with the speedy Bednarczyk.

Scouting South Dakota State
The Jackrabbits won the final three games of the regular season to capture the Missouri Valley Conference title, earning an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs and a first-round bye as a No. 8 seed. Their biggest victory came back in October when they upset North Dakota State, the FBS giant-slayer that’s also won the last five FCS national championships. Led by standout sophomore quarterback Taryn Christion, South Dakota State averages 314.4 passing yards (eighth in the FCS) and is scoring 37.4 points per game (11th in the FCS). On the other side of the ball, the Jackrabbits have returned four interceptions for TDs and linebacker Christian Roseboom is a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award as the nation’s top freshman after amassing more than 100 tackles.

Series history
This is the first-ever meeting between the two teams.

Storyline to watch
The key to the game will likely boil down to which one of the talented dual-threat sophomore quarterbacks has the better game and how much Villanova’s dominant defense can slow down Christion, who has thrown for 3,369 yards with 29 touchdowns while also rushing for 385 yards and a team-high six TDs. The Jackrabbits quarterback has two very good targets who have both eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in junior wideout Jake Wieneke and junior tight end Dallas Goedert. Villanova will likely need Rob Rolle (seven interceptions) to make a big play against a team that’s only turned it over 12 times and for Kpassagnon to put heavy pressure on Christion.

What’s at stake?
The winner will almost certainly have a date with Carson Wentz’s alma mater in the third round as top-seeded North Dakota State hosts San Diego. If the Wildcats lose, it will mark the end of Talley’s career after 32 years at the helm and 12 playoff berths.

Prediction
This is a brutally tough trip for the Wildcats but something says Talley has one more win in him before running into the North Dakota State juggernaut.

Villanova 28, South Dakota State 24