Villanova falls just short on second day of Penn Relays

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Villanova falls just short on second day of Penn Relays

Both the men’s and women’s distance runners from Villanova ran good races Friday at the Penn Relays.

Just not quite good enough to win.

One day after capturing its second straight distance medley relay title, the ’Nova women placed third in the women’s 4x1500 Championship of America relay, just behind first-place Michigan and second-place Oregon.

And the ’Nova men came in second place in Friday’s distance medley relay championship, falling to a Penn State squad that claimed its first DMR title since 1959.

“I’m happy for them,” Villanova men’s track coach Marcus O’Sullivan said of his runners. “And I’m disappointed for them.”

In its first big race of the 119th Penn Relays at Franklin Field, the Villanova men certainly lived up to its billing as one of the nation’s premier track programs.

Sam McEntee ran the 1200 in 2:53.0 to kick things off for the ’Cats. He was followed by Sam Ellison (who ran the 400 in 46.0 seconds), Chris FitzSimons (who ran the 800 in 1:49.4) and Jordan Williamsz (who anchored the mile in 3:58.4).

Meanwhile, La Salle’s team of Nick Crits, Wayne Bartholomew, Paul Reilly and Alfredo Santana placed a very respectable sixth. Interestingly enough, both Ellison and Reilly were teammates at nearby Upper Dublin High School, along with Mike Palmasino, who ran the leadoff leg for defending champion Princeton. Palmasino’s Tigers, however, stumbled to a ninth-place finish.

The biggest local story, though, was Villanova. And after failing to win the first of the three distance relays its entered in this weekend, the Wildcats will now focus on the other two -- Saturday’s 4xmile and 4x800.

“You walk past 20, 30 [Penn Relays] wheels every time you go in the locker room before every run,” McEntee said. “Marcus makes note of it. We have so many guys who have run here and won here. It’s such a rich history. Villanova is the school at Penn Relays.”

The same could be said for the ’Nova women, who already showed how potent they are with Friday’s DMR championship.

In the 4x1500, the Wildcats stayed right with powerhouses Michigan and Oregon for most of the race but found themselves trailing by at least 20 meters when anchor Emily Lipari took the baton.

Lipari ran the best anchor leg at 4:17.5 but it was not enough to close the deficit as Villanova placed third with a time of 17:17.57. Stephanie Schappert ran the leadoff leg in 4:22.9, Nicky Akande the second leg in 4:18, and Angel Piccirillo the third leg in 4:19.1.

“I have faith in my finish,” Lipari said. “My only goal was to catch up to them and worry about the finish later. Unfortunately, they started to bang into second gear and I just couldn’t give any more than I was already giving. It’s frustrating because I keep replaying the race in my head. I know I could do it. But I’m going to take this one and learn from it and apply it to tomorrow.”

On Saturday, the ’Nova women will close out its distance relay events with a spot in the 4x800. Most other teams don’t compete in that many relays, and that was perhaps one reason why Michigan and Oregon -- both of whom didn’t participate in the women’s DMR on Thursday -- edged out the Wildcats on Friday.

But the Wildcats wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We’re Villanova,” Schappert said. “We run as many races as we can.”

Praise for the Penn Relays
Just in case you needed any reminders just how respected the Penn Relays are, a couple of the world’s premier runners provided a couple.

In a press conference to preview Saturday’s highly anticipated USA vs. the World relays, England’s Christine Ohuruogo noted that “the atmosphere we have at Penn is like nothing I ever experienced, not even in London.” And American star Allyson Felix added that “there’s really no environment like this.”

Keep in mind, Ohuruogo and Felix are both past Olympic medalists.

Felix, who won three gold medals at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, will likely run in both the 4x100 and 4x400 USA vs. the World relays on Saturday.

And another Olympic gold medalist, Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, hopes to slow her down.

“USA has been dominating the event for so long,” Fraser-Pryce said. “We just want to come at least one year and do something great. So maybe this year is the time.”

The USA vs. the World races will be televised live on NBC from 1-3 p.m.

Strong showing for Penn freshman
Sam Mattis knows a thing or two about the Penn Relays, having already captured three high school discus titles here.

It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, then, that the Penn freshman put in a strong showing in his first collegiate Penn Relays, placing fourth in the discus championship with a throw of 187 feet, 4 inches.

James Plummer of Rutgers won the event at 194-3.

High school fun
One of the loudest cheers of the day came in the high school girls 4x800 Championship of America when Columbia (Maplewood, N.J.) came from way behind in the final lap to overtake Jamaica’s Edwin Allen High and draw “U-S-A” chants from the Franklin Field crowd.

Of local interest in that race, Great Valley, Pennsbury and Garnet Valley placed fifth through seventh.

Jay Wright: No. 1 Villanova overcoming 'constant challenge' of championship hangover

Jay Wright: No. 1 Villanova overcoming 'constant challenge' of championship hangover

It's something Villanova is constantly battling, constantly fighting. Jay Wright feels it every day and so do his players.
 
The national championship hangover.
 
About 10½ months ago, Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Jalen Brunson and several other members of the current Villanova basketball team beat North Carolina, 77-74, at Reliant Stadium in Houston to win the national title.
 
It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and Wright’s challenge this year has been to try to make it a twice-in-a-lifetime experience.
 
He has a group of young kids who’ve scaled the highest mountain, who’ve lived a dream, who’ve experienced something only a handful of college basketball players ever get to experience.
 
And with that championship has come a sense of accomplishment that’s certainly deserving and understandable but also at odds with the hunger Wright needs from his players to be at their best every moment of this season.
 
That’s the battle Wright and his team is facing. Beating the NCAA championship hangover. 
 
“It’s definitely there,” Wright said Saturday after the Wildcats beat Providence at the Wells Fargo Center. “It’s something you have to deal with all the time, and as you have success it continues, and I’m sure when it comes NCAA Tournament time, it’s going to be (even stronger).
 
“I get it. Everybody said it to me and if someone asks me next year I would say the same thing, that it’s there and you really, really have to address it and deal with it. Every day.”
 
So far, they’re addressing it and dealing with it magnificently.
 
Villanova is 19-1 and ranked No. 1 in the country. The Wildcats’ only loss so far was to No. 12 Butler by eight points at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
 
Although Villanova graduated Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, the nucleus of last year’s 35-5 team is still here. Eight Wildcats averaged 17 minutes or more last year, and six of them — Hart, Jenkins, Brunson, Darryl Reynolds, Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth — are still in the program, although Booth is currently injured.
 
Hart, Villanova’s national Player of the Year candidate, said the championship hangover is a real thing he senses every day.
 
“Definitely,” he said. “Coach has been coaching longer than we’ve been alive. He’s got the experience, we’ve just got to lean on his experience. He’s been through these situations, and we just have to be humble and be coachable.”
 
The last team to win a national championship and get off to this good of a start was Duke in 2010-11.
 
But that Duke team lost its 21st game. A win at Marquette on Tuesday would make Villanova 20-1, and that would be the best record to start a season by a national champion since Duke opened 23-1 in 2001-02.
 
So from the outside, it seems like smooth sailing. But Wright swears the championship hangover is something he has to deal with every day.
 
“It’s everything,” Wright said. “You sense that home games are like shows, they’re not competitions. You can just sense it. You can feel it. Everybody’s coming to see the show.
 
“You can’t do that as a player because the other team’s coming in to beat the top team in the country, and they’re at another level. So your players sense it. Everything that goes on around them. The way everybody treats them, and what’s going on in their mind.
 
“They’ve done it. I’m sure there’s some times where Josh and Darryl and Kris are like, ‘All right, we’ve done this already, let’s get through this, let’s get to the NCAA Tournament.’ They never say it, but they’re human beings.
 
“You know there’s going to be some times, some times, when I’m on their butts about little things and they have to think, ‘Come on man, we did this already.’ You know? Then they catch themselves. They never say it, but I can just sense that sometimes.”
 
But the Wildcats keep on rolling. They’re now a remarkable 116-14 in four years with Hart, Jenkins and Reynolds on campus, by far the best record in Division 1 since the start of the 2013-14 season.
 
If anything, Jenkins, Hart and Brunson have all been even better this year than last.
 
Jenkins, who hit the historic buzzer-beater to topple North Carolina in the title game, has career-high averages of 14.3 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals and is shooting a career-high 43 percent from three.
 
Hart is shooting a career-high 53 percent and averaging career-highs of 19.2 points, 3.6 assists and 1.5 steals per game.

And Brunson, a sophomore, has blossomed after taking over the point, with 13.9 points, 4.3 assists and 2.5  rebounds per game.
 
“We just have to continue to get better,” Jenkins said. “I believe every guy in our locker room wants to continue to grow and become better. We’re not just satisfied with something we did last year. This is a brand-new year.”
 
Wright was asked if he’s ever had to deal with anything like this before.
 
He didn’t hesitate before saying simply, “No.”
 
In 2009, Villanova went 30-8 and reached the Final 4 but there’s no comparison, he said.
 
“Even after going to the Final 4 in ’09, a lot of those guys left,” Wright said. “We graduated six guys so it was a whole different team.
 
“We’ve got a lot of guys back. We only lost two starters. So all these guys have done it. Mikal Bridges didn’t do it as a starter, Darryl Reynolds didn’t do it as a starter, but they don’t think that way, kids don’t think that way. People don’t treat them that way. Even Jalen Brunson, he started but he was in a different role, but people treat him that way. ‘You’re the national champions, you did it.’
 
“Arch (Ryan Arcidiacono), Daniel (Ochefu), three walk-ons were leaders, they did a lot too.”
 
The Wildcats lost not only a Big East Player of the Year and one of the best big men in the program’s history but also a projected starting guard to injury and their top recruit to eligibility.
 
And they’re 19-1 and No. 1 in the country.
 
You can make a case that Wright is actually doing a better coaching job this year than last year.
 
“It’s just constant,” he said of the 2016 hangover. “They’ve handled it far better than I ever thought 18- to 22-year-olds could, but it’s a constant challenge.
 
“I know you (writers) have children. That’s exactly what it is. Your kid has some good days in school and does well, does his homework, (and thinks), ‘Yeah, I get it.’
 
"'OK, don’t get cocky now.’ Eighteen to 22. And they’ve been amazing. Amazing. But we definitely have to address it all the time.
 
“And I’m not complaining about it. I would take this challenge every year. There’s no reason to complain. You’re a jerk if you’re complaining about it. I’m just being honest about it, that it’s something we address. And I’m happy to do it. And so are they.”

St. Joe's, Lamarr Kimble cut down on mistakes in win over Penn

St. Joe's, Lamarr Kimble cut down on mistakes in win over Penn

BOX SCORE

The last thing Saint Joseph’s basketball players usually read before they leave the locker room is one word: “Win.” It’s the word coach Phil Martelli typically goes with.

But after three straight defeats and losses in four of five since losing top scorer Shavar Newkirk to a season-ending knee injury on Dec. 30, Martelli decided to change what he wrote on the board.

Saturday night at the Palestra, in a St. Joe’s home game against Big 5 rival Penn, Martelli said he wrote: “Chase the taste.”

Led by sophomore point guard Lamarr Kimble, who played all 40 minutes, the Hawks tasted a victory, holding off the Quakers, 78-71 (see Instant Replay).

“To walk around for two weeks without a win, it’s been miserable,” Martelli said. “And I haven’t made it easier on them. Because we are not injured. This team is not injured. The team that got dressed in that locker room and came out on the court, that’s our team. Everybody starts the conversation with: ‘Due to the injuries have you…’ No. It has nothing to do with it. There’s injuries all over the country. 

“But the recurring themes, the turnovers, really, in a way, insanity. Shot selection at times, insanity. All of that had to be corrected and it had to be corrected in a harsh way. I wasn’t really that pleased with myself but I had to get after them and make sure they knew no one felt sorry for them.”

Kimble, especially.

With Newkirk gone for the year, the Hawks are probably going to go as far as the Neumann-Goretti grad takes them. In a familiar building, one which he tasted Catholic League titles in, Kimble led all scorers with 23 points. He added five assists and three rebounds. 

But, most importantly, he had just two turnovers. In the five previous contests since Newkirk’s injury, Kimble had 31 turnovers, including nine last time out in a loss to Massachusetts. 

“First of all his leadership hasn’t changed at all,” Martelli said. “He’s been very forceful, very accountable. He has not played well.”

You wouldn’t have known it Saturday night. 

The confident guard shot 6 of 13 from the floor, including 2 for 5 from deep, and made nine of his 11 free throw attempts. In a game which the Hawks utilized a speed advantage to play, as Martelli called it, “downhill,” Kimble and James Demery (9 of 12 from the line) really opened up the floor in the second half after Penn had battled back from a 15-point deficit to take a brief lead.

The Hawks (9-9, 2-4 Atlantic 10) got to the line 43 times (shooting 72 percent) while Penn (6-9) took just 15 free throws.

Demery had 15 points for the game, 11 coming in the second half. Freshman Charlie Brown contributed a career-high 19 points and nine boards.

The three of them were critical down the stretch in pulling away from Penn, which got 19 points from Matt Howard and 15 from freshman Ryan Betley.

Betley hit a big corner three to pull Penn within four, 66-62, with 2:44 left. But after two Brown free throws and a stop on defense, Kimble was fouled shooting a three pointer by Penn’s Jackson Donahue with the shot clock expiring. The miss would have given Penn a chance with a manageable clock.

Instead, he made two of his three attempts and pushed the lead to eight with just over a minute and a half left.

“There was a lot going into this game,” Kimble said. “One, playing at the Palestra, everybody knows the amount of history. It’s the Mecca, basically. The place to play in college basketball. Two, reversing our three-game losing streak and trying to start fresh. We know that if we took our losses and took our stunts that we still have the chance to improve as a group.

“It does a lot. It’s definitely a confidence booster. We’ve got a lot of young kids. Young kids ride on winning. When you’re losing, it’s difficult to turn that around when you’re younger. We don’t have the most experienced group so we definitely have to take our wins and just ride on that and keep pushing. Hopefully the energy has changed and it’ll hopefully carry on to the next game.”

That next game is Tuesday.

“Tomorrow we start for a tough game at St. Bonaventure,” Martelli said. “And we start that in eighth place. That’s average for the league. And 9-9 (overall) is average."

Up to this point, they’ve been exactly that: average. Martelli acknowledged as much.

But Saturday changed the taste in the locker room. And provided enough proof to say Kimble’s play will go a long way in determining the fate of the Hawks.

“I’m with him. He’s with me,” Martelli said. “And we’ll ride this out.”