NEW YORK – The Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden gave us a vintage individual performance. And a team performance that, if not vintage, was certainly eye-opening.
Davidson 68, West Virginia 65
Texas 67, Villanova 58
What Davidson Did Well: Follow the lead of their “franchise” player and maintain poise. The Wildcats built an early second half double-digit lead only to see West Virginia claw back and take a lead of their own. Sterling guard Stephen Curry was struggling from the floor, largely due to being hounded by a taller, longer Mountaineer defender all night long. In the end, Curry proved to be the major difference. With the game on the balance Curry stepped up. In front of over 14,000 with five minutes left the Davidson junior hit four major shots. And they weren’t exactly wide open looks. He simply put his signature on the contest and willed his team to victory when they needed it most. Curry finished with a game-high 27 points and 10 assists. The stat sheet tells us Curry was 9 of 27 from the field, including 4 of 16 beyond the arc. The stats list him as game-high scorer but do not tell the type performance he had those final few minutes – when his team needed him most. Lest anyone think Curry is solely a green-light gunner, he had a game-high 10 assists and looked for his teammates all night.
What West Virginia Did Well: Rebound and defend. Davidson coach Bob McKillop was hard-pressed to remember another time his team was out-rebounded so bad, and won. West Virginia owned a 58-32 edge on the boards; on the offensive end it was 29-12. The Mountaineers were hit with backcourt injuries, as Alex Ruoff was out and Joe Mazzulla was limited to six minutes of action. Regardless, you knew coach Bob Huggins would not use that as an excuse and come up with a defensive scheme to neutralize Curry. And he did. Huggins kept rotating fresh bodies on Curry. Virtually all of the West Virginia defenders were the taller, long type, hoping to disrupt the Wildcat marksman. It worked.
“They (West Virginia) were taller and longer defensively than what I am used to,” Curry said. “Every time we screened they switched and another tall defender was there waiting.” Simply, he was forced to earn every shot. In the end Curry just did what great players do. Even then, there weren’t any easy shots.
What Villanova Did Well: Compete inside. Texas posed a huge problem with three 6-10 players in the rotation. The Texas “bigs” are collectively not the greatest skilled but they can bang and wear you down. Dante Cunningham had another impressive performance, battling inside and putting up a team-high 23 points and 12 boards. Dwayne Anderson added 9 boards in relief. The 6-6 senior swingman will have to step up and help inside on a regular basis once Big East play unfolds with a succession of physical challenges. Villanova out-rebounded Texas 35-31 and was not significantly hurt on the offensive end by the Longhorn big men.
What Texas Did Well: Defend all night long. In the post-game press conference A.J. Abrams enthusiastically discussed the Longhorn defense. They forced Villanova into a 38 percent shooting night, which included a 4 of 18 (22 percent) mark from beyond the arc. Texas also imposed their defensive will to disrupt the Villanova offense into a 19-turnover evening. On a night when the pace was moderate and possessions were at a premium, that figure loomed as a crucial one. The stat sheet, again, will tell one and all Justin Mason scored 3 points in 33 minutes. Mason’s work is another example of the stats not doing him justice. He played outstanding perimeter defense and was a big reason Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds had a 10-point night on 2 of 7 shooting from the floor.
Final Note on ‘Nova: For Villanova this was their first major test of the year. Actually, they faced Rhode Island in the Hoop Group Classic but didn’t get the challenge they expected. Texas provided the measurement. It would be harsh to say the Wildcats failed. Let’s say it was a learning experience. As well as the Wildcats competed, coach Jay Wright noted a little extra toughness is needed facing a team like Texas. In the loaded Big East, Villanova will face several programs of a similar challenge.
Wright is looking for key defensive stops. Villanova trailed by four points midway through the second half. On several consecutive trips they simply could not get the contest to a one-possession game, thanks largely to Abrams’ (game high 26 points) clutch shooting. The game boiled down to defense. And the Wildcats couldn’t get those key stops at crunch time.
A few players that impressed:
- Abrams, Texas G: Scored 26 points, 4-of-9 from 3.
- Mason, Texas G: The defense never rests.
- Damion James, Texas F: Scored16 points. Can operate in the paint or outside.
- Cunningham, Villanova F: A competitive and tough 23 point 12 board night.
- Corey Stokes, Villanova G: Knocked down a few threes early, finished with 11 points.
- Stephon Curry, Davidson G: Went for 27 points, but his spurt in the last five minutes was the story.
- Andrew Lovedale, Davidson F: Took advantage of the defense’s concern over Curry, scored 15 points.
- Da’Sean Butler, West Virginia F: Solid 24-point, 14-board outing.
- Devin Ebanks, West Virginia F: Impressive inside, scored 13 points and added 17 rebounds.
Quotable: “I really think we have the ability to get to the Final Four. But before we even think about that, we just want to get better each day.” – A.J. Abrams, Texas