Sluggish Villanova gets 'rough' win over Penn

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Sluggish Villanova gets 'rough' win over Penn

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VILLANOVA, Pa. -- After catapulting into the national rankings with huge wins over Kansas and Iowa in the Bahamas over Thanksgiving weekend, Villanova returned home looking like a team that can challenge for a Big East title and perhaps even make a deep run in March.

But after a sloppy 77-54 victory over Penn at the Pavilion on Wednesday (see Instant Replay), Villanova head coach Jay Wright offered a reminder for anyone that wants to put the No. 14 Wildcats on a pedestal just yet.

“We’re not a finished product at all,” Wright said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. I like our team. We’re going to be good. But we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Wright didn’t have too many positive things to say about his team following Villanova’s Big 5 opener Wednesday -- which might seem silly when you consider ’Nova won by 23 points and never trailed.

But if you were at the Pavilion, it’s easy to understand the head coach’s concern. After jumping out to a huge first-half lead, the Wildcats fell asleep coming out of the halftime break, failing to score any second-half points for seven-and-a-half minutes and not converting a field goal until more than 10 minutes had elapsed.

“We certainly didn’t play a pretty game, but when that happens it’s always the other team that plays well,” Wright said. “We were a little bit off our game, but they were really good. They executed and they played harder than us, so we don’t look good. I give them credit and we’re going to learn from this.”

Despite Villanova’s cold streak to start the second half, the Quakers had trouble making up too much ground, only slicing the lead to single digits a couple of times. The closest they’d come was 56-48 after sophomore swingman Julian Harrell finished a pretty drive with seven minutes left.

“You know, it was crazy,” Penn head coach Jerome Allen said. “We had it to nine and had four consecutive stops. But you can’t give possessions away. Out of those four possessions for us, I think two of them ended with unforced turnovers. That’s unfortunate but we’ll learn from it. Some things you’re willing to live with so we can live for tomorrow. But you can’t play Division I basketball and continue to give teams opportunity after opportunity after opportunity because eventually they’re going to score the ball.”

For the game, the Wildcats shot just 18 for 52 from the field but did a lot of damage from the free throw line, where they made 31 of their 40 foul shots. They also avoided the upset scare, thanks to some hot shooting from Darrun Hilliard (19 points on 4 for 6 shooting from three-point range) and solid games from JayVaughn Pinkston (13 points, seven rebounds) and James Bell (14 points, eight rebounds).

Sophomore point guard Ryan Arcidiacono had another poor shooting night, going just 1 for 10 from the field.

“I think we have certain players that individually can take over,” Wright said. “We have guys that can turn it on. But that’s not a good plan for success.”

While mostly upset with his team’s performance, Wright did admit that he was pleased with the defense Hilliard and Arcidiacono played on Penn leading scorer Tony Hicks, who was held to just one point while battling foul trouble. The Villanova coach also was happy to hold Miles Jackson-Cartwright to three points in the second half after the Quakers' senior erupted for 14 first-half points, including a stretch of three consecutive three-pointers.

What he didn’t like defensively was how Villanova dealt with Penn freshman point guard Tony Bagtas, who played 36 minutes in his first collegiate start and effectively escaped trouble from the Wildcats’ three-quarters court trap.

“I didn’t even see him on film,” Wright said. “And that kid did a hell of a job. We couldn’t do anything with him. He got wherever he wanted to go.”

Coming into Wednesday’s game, it would have been hard to predict that Bagtas would play 36 minutes, considering he averaged 4.8 minutes per game through Penn’s first six contests.

But against the Wildcats’ press, Allen decided to hand the rookie the keys to the car, and Bagtas responded with seven points, nine assists and six rebounds -- although he also committed five turnovers.

“I thought he was great,” Allen said. “I thought he played at the right pace. I thought he tried to make plays for us. And he’s only going to get better.”

“I think Tony led us from the start,” Jackson-Cartwright said. “We were confident with the ball in his hands. We’ve always been confident in what he can do, and I thought he was great at being poised, keeping us all calm and setting the offense.”

While Bagtas could be the missing piece to a still-developing Penn rotation that already features senior standouts Jackson-Cartwright and Fran Dougherty and sophomore rising stars Hicks and Darien Nelson-Henry, Villanova already has all of its pieces in places, as evidenced by its impressive 8-0 start.

And with each win, the Wildcats’ status as a national power will continue to grow, as will their No. 14 ranking. But Wright knows the 'Cats can fall off their perch just as quickly.

“I like being ranked, I really do,” Wright said. “I think it’s great for the school, great for our conference, great for our fans and great for Philadelphia basketball. There’s nothing bad about it. This doesn’t have anything to do with that. It just has to do with our commitment to playing every game and every possession the same way.

“It was just a rough game,” he later added. “A Big 5 game.”

Big 5 Hall of Fame inducts 'maybe the greatest class we've ever put together'

Big 5 Hall of Fame inducts 'maybe the greatest class we've ever put together'

About midway through Monday night's Big 5 Hall of Fame ceremony, the oldest inductee of this year's class paid homage to the youngest.

That's how much hoops legend George Raveling, a 1960 Villanova graduate, was blown away by Penn alum Ibrahim Jaaber's impassioned speech that ended with a powerful poem about how basketball saved him.

"It kept running through my mind that you represent everything good about sports," Raveling said to Jaaber. "And I hope you'll continue to use your wisdom, your influence, to make the game better, to make the world better. As a 79-year-old-man, soon to be 80 in June, I want to tell you that if I come back in the next life, I want to be like you."

That touching moment, in many ways, was a perfect encapsulation of the ties that bind the Big 5, from one generation to the next. But aside from Raveling and longtime Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter Bill Lyon -- who, despite battling Alzheimer's, courageously gave an acceptance speech to a standing ovation at the Palestra -- this year's class was filled with contemporary guards who clashed in some great Big 5 games not too long ago.

Among them were two current NBA players in Saint Joseph's icon Jameer Nelson (class of 2004) and former 'Nova star Randy Foye (2006), as well as Temple's Lynn Greer (2002) and Jaaber (2007). La Salle women's player Carlene Hightower (2008) was the other member of the star-studded class defined by tough, gritty Philadelphia guards.

"The inductees here for the Hall of Fame have got to be maybe the greatest class we've ever put together," said Villanova head coach Jay Wright, who closed the night by accepting the Big 5 Coach of the Year award right after Josh Hart took home Player of the Year honors. "I grew up in Philadelphia and we always talk about what a great place the Palestra is -- and it is. But when you listen to Lynn, Randy, Coach Rav, Ibby, Jameer, you know why this is a great place. It's because of all the great man that have played here -- outstanding, humble, articulate, intelligent men that understand they're part of something that's bigger than themselves. That's what makes the Big 5. That's what makes the Palestra."

Nelson, the National Player of the Year during St. Joe’s historic 2003-04 season, certainly showed what kind of person he is, inviting all of his old Hawks teammates who were in attendance to stand behind him as he accepted his Hall of Fame award. And he even choked up at one point as he described what those teammates, coach Phil Martelli and Saint Joseph's University have meant to him as he's forged a long and fruitful NBA career.

"Without them, none of this would be possible," said Nelson, the Hawks' all-time leader in points (2,094) and assists (713). "These guys mean the world to me."

Nelson, now with the Denver Nuggets, just wrapped up his 13th season in the NBA, calling it an "unbelievable ride" for a 5-foot-11 kid from Chester. That's two more years spent in the league than Foye, who Nelson thanked for forcing him to be better back in their college days. He also called Greer one of his "great friends" and said that Jaaber's speech "touched me in so many different ways, I wish more young kids could hear it."

"I'm very grateful to be inducted with you guys," Nelson said, although he did point out that when he was at St. Joe's, the Hawks had Villanova down 43-9 at halftime one year. 

"But those next couple years, we payed y'all back," said Foye, now with the Brooklyn Nets, during his own speech.

Those rivalries were especially meaningful to Foye, who also played against Jaaber in both high school and college.

"Being from North Jersey, you never hear about the Big 5," said Foye, a first-team All-American and Big 5 Player of the Year in 2006. "For me coming here and witnessing it up close and personal, it's just something truly amazing."

Foye added that everywhere he goes, he tries to embody what a Philly guard is -- "small but play big," as he put it -- while reminding people that he's proud to be a Villanova alum. The same can be said of Raveling, a longtime college coach and executive who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015.

"I'm so proud to say I'm a Big 5 product -- and a proud graduate of Villanova University," Raveling said. "I look back many times and realize the wisest decision I ever made in my lifetime was to enroll at Villanova University."

Just as he opened his speech, Raveling also closed it by saying he was "proud" to enter the Big 5 Hall of Fame the same year as Jaaber, whose remarks touched on spirituality, family and a unique journey from Morocco to New Jersey to Penn.

Jaaber also made sure to thank the person who perhaps embodies the Big 5 more than anyone else: former La Salle player, former Penn coach and current Temple coach Fran Dunphy.

"I don't think I could have had a better coach for me in my situation than my Coach Dunphy," said Jaaber, the 2006-07 Big 5 Player of the Year and the all-time Ivy League leader in steals (303). "I'm almost embarrassed to be inducted into the Hall of Fame before Coach Dunphy."

Archbishop Wood basketball star Collin Gillespie signs with Villanova

Archbishop Wood basketball star Collin Gillespie signs with Villanova

Archbishop Wood's Collin Gillespie, the Philadelphia Catholic League's MVP, has signed a national letter of intent to attend Villanova and play for Jay Wright.

Gillespie, during his senior year, averaged 24.1 points per game. The 6-foot-2 guard lead Archbishop Wood to their first Catholic League title in school history and followed that up with a PIAA State Championship game victory -- also a first for the school. Along with the league MVP, Gillespie was named Player of the Year by the Philadelphia Daily News.

"We are excited to have Collin and his family join the Nova Nation," Villanova coach Jay Wright said in a statement. "Collin comes from a great program at Archbishop Wood and has been well prepared by John Mosco. His guard skills, basketball IQ and winning instincts will be a welcome addition to our program."

Gillespie will join previously announced signees Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (Neumann-Goretti High School in Philadelphia) and Jermaine Samuels (Rivers School, Weston, Mass.) in Villanova's class of 2021.