Sluggish Villanova gets 'rough' win over Penn

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Sluggish Villanova gets 'rough' win over Penn

BOX SCORE

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.”

Fastbreak Friday: Villanova to face pesky Providence Friars

Fastbreak Friday: Villanova to face pesky Providence Friars

CSN anchor/reporter Amy Fadool and producer Sean Kane get you set for all of the weekend's local college basketball games with Fastbreak Friday. Look for this column every Friday during the college basketball season.

Providence (13-7, 3-4 Big East) at No. 1 Villanova (18-1, 6-1 Big East), Saturday at noon

AF: This is a first. In the three seasons that I have been privileged to co-author this column, I've never written about Villanova. Today, that drought ends. Thank you to all who made this possible, which really is just one person: Sean Kane. 

I think one of the reasons that he relinquished his iron grip, just for one week, is that a new, young fan is now on board with this Villanova team and will be attending his first Wildcats game this weekend. When I say that our 2-year-old son is a fan, that may be understating it a little bit. He knows the entire roster, from Josh Hart to Donte DiVincenzo, and every player in between. He knows the fight song, and proudly belts out V for Villanova. Of course, I'm proud of my son. I do wish he could sneak in a few bars of "On, On U of K" or know one other Kentucky player besides Malik Monk. But that's enough of the background of why I finally broke through and am writing about Villanova this week.

The Wildcats returned to the No. 1 ranking this week as they welcome Providence to the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday. The Friars have given Jay Wright's teams fits over the past few seasons. You don't need to look much farther than last year when you check the numbers of a Ben Bentil or Kris Dunn. In fact, in the last three seasons, Villanova has lost one home game, and almost a year ago exactly that loss came courtesy of Providence. On Jan. 24, 2016, Bentil owned the low post and poured in 31 points, while the high-low game was working to perfection because Dunn racked up 14 assists. Of course, neither Dunn nor Bentil are on this year's Providence squad and that is a good thing for 'Nova.

The Friars come into this game on a short, two-game winning streak, but that's bigger than it may seem. Before that, they dropped five of their previous six games, including a heartbreaking one-point loss to DePaul.

Nothing seems to get Providence back on track better than Georgetown, already sweeping the season series with the Hoyas. Ed Cooley's team seems to do this every year — have a lull only to explode in March. The Friars did it three years ago, when Villanova crushed them by 30 in January, only to see Providence steamroll its way through the Big East Tournament. So I'm never ready to count out a Cooley team. 

But Villanova is rolling after its lone loss of the year, falling to Butler on the road after a spectacular performance at Creighton. Sean wrote in this very column last week that the Wildcats needed to get more from their bench, specifically DiVincenzo. No, I don't think Donte reads this (though he should; it's fun!), but it was as if he did. In the decisive victory over Seton Hall this week, DiVincenzo posted 10 points, two rebounds and a monster block in 29 minutes of work, a solid effort off the bench. 

In the game before, at St. John's last weekend, DiVincenzo had starter-like numbers in a two-man bench effort with Eric Paschall. DiVincenzo tallied a career-high 19 points in the win at the Garden. And if the Wildcats are getting numbers near that from him, they should start thinking about a return trip to the Final Four. 

March is all about depth. Hart is going to get his. But you need other players to step up (see: Phil Booth in the title game). DiVincenzo could be that guy for Wright this year. This team certainly looks primed to go far in March. 

The spotlight on the Wells Fargo Center will shine on the Wildcats and another win. 

Villanova 80, Providence 66

La Salle (11-5, 5-1 A-10) at VCU (14-5, 4-2 A-10), Sunday at 2 p.m.

SK: Which city team has the longest winning streak? It's not top-ranked Villanova. The correct answer would be the La Salle Explorers, winners of five straight games and seven of their last nine. The good times kept rolling Thursday night with a 91-83 victory over Davidson at Tom Gola Arena. 

Four different Explorers scored 12 or more points in the win, and the one starter who didn't — junior Demetrius Henry — provided three critical baskets in the closing minutes.

Henry's contributions aside, the night belonged to Jordan Price. The senior guard scored 29 points on 9-of-14 shooting. Price knocked down 4 of 6 three-point attempts and went 7 of 8 from the foul line. The Explorers' leader is hitting his stride, averaging 26 points in the last two games while shooting 72 percent from the field.

La Salle now sets its sights on a Sunday showdown at VCU, which has a 14-5 record under second-year head coach Will Wade. The Rams will be hungry for a win, having dropped back-to-back road games at Davidson and Fordham. Wade has done an admirable job maintaining the success of the VCU program following the departure of Shaka Smart to Texas following the 2014-15 season. The Rams advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament a year ago and have a good shot at making their way into the Field of 68 again this season.

The Explorers shouldn't be fazed by VCU's raucous homecourt advantage. La Salle won in double overtime in its last trip to Richmond against VCU two years ago.

I can honestly see this game going either way, and would be surprised if things weren't decided in the final minutes. But I'm riding the hot hand with the Explorers and Price. La Salle is a confident team right now; look for it to figure out a way to win a sixth straight game on Sunday.

La Salle 81, VCU 78

Pennsylvania (6-8, 0-3 Ivy League) at Saint Joseph's (8-9, 2-4 A-10), Saturday at 7 p.m.

AF: The Quakers are in the midst of a tough stretch. They opened up Ivy League play with rival Princeton two weeks ago, and it started a three-game losing streak — first to the Tigers, then home losses to Yale and Brown. But it's not as if Penn hasn't been in these games. In the loss to Brown, the Quakers cut it to just a two-point deficit with under eight minutes to play, but a great defensive stand by the Bears led to Penn's missing its next seven shots. 

Next up for Steve Donahue, a Big 5 matchup with Saint Joseph's, a team also reeling a bit. 

In its most recent game, a five-point loss at UMass, St. Joe's shot 32 percent, including an abysmal 26 percent in the second half. 

Once again, the Hawks did get a solid effort from James Demery. The junior had a career-high 11 rebounds to go with his team-high 19 points in the loss. One would think that if Phil Martelli keeps getting efforts like that from Demery, the Hawks will break through on a win soon. They are just short-handed with injuries right now.

This game will be played at the Palestra, which contrary to a silly Duke tweet this week, is the greatest home court in college basketball. Fun fact: Penn has enjoyed more success against Saint Joseph’s than any other Big 5 opponent in recent years, with three wins over the last six meetings.

But I don't know if that fun fact continues this weekend. Both teams are playing with a little desperation, and I think that the shooters for the Hawks will step up in this one.

Saint Joseph's 62, Penn 60

Drexel (7-12, 1-5 CAA) at UNC Wilmington (18-2, 7-0 CAA), Sunday at 4 p.m.

SK: To say this is a tall order for Drexel would be an understatement. The Dragons have dropped six of their last seven games, including a 20-point loss at Elon Thursday night. Meanwhile, UNC Wilmington enters Sunday's game with an 18-2 record and a perfect 7-0 mark in CAA play. The Seahawks' two losses this season came at Clemson and against a very good Middle Tennessee State team.

The UNC Wilmington program has enjoyed a remarkable turnaround under third-year head coach Kevin Keatts, who previously served as Rick Pitino's assistant at Louisville. The Seahawks won 25 games and made it to the NCAA Tournament last year, losing a tightly contested game to Duke in the first round. After they established themselves as the class of the CAA once again this season, it would come as a major surprise if they're not back in the Big Dance this March. 

UNC Wilmington has three players averaging 15 points or more — C.J. Bryce (17.5), Chris Flemmings (15.9) and Denzel Ingram (15.5). The Seahawks simply have too much firepower for a Drexel team struggling to find its way under first-year head coach Zach Spiker. For the Dragons' sake, I hope I'm wrong, but I don't see this being much of a contest.

UNC Wilmington 77, Drexel 59

Prediction records
Sean Kane: 18-4
Amy Fadool: 13-7

Delaware avenges 36-point loss with upset of Northeastern

Delaware avenges 36-point loss with upset of Northeastern

BOX SCORE

NEWARK, Del. -- Freshman Ryan Daly scored 27 points and Delaware avenged its worst loss of the season, upsetting Northeastern 69-62 on Thursday night for the Blue Hens' first Colonial Athletic Association win of the season.

Cazmon Hayes added 13 points and Eric Carter 11 for Delaware (8-12, 1-6), which snapped a six-game losing streak that had included a 36-point loss, 90-54, to the Huskies on Jan. 5.

T.J. Williams scored 28 points, the only Huskies player to reach double figures. Northeastern (12-7, 5-2) lost its second straight after an eight-game winning streak.

Three-pointers by Devonne Pinkard and Daly gave Delaware the lead for good at 46-41 with 11 minutes left. A 14-2 run with eight points each from Carter and Daly made it a 12-point lead with two minutes to go.

Delaware made 17 of 22 free throws to 7 of 14 for Northeastern.