The toughness that helped Villanova win a national championship a year ago was on display for the country to see, just two games into the Wildcats’ defense of their title.
In a terrific display of just what college basketball can be when high-level teams embrace playing games at home sites on campus-and not in antiseptic neutral site NBA arenas-the Wildcats held off Purdue 79-76 Monday night at the Boilermakers’ Mackey Arena. And we do mean “held off.”
Villanova took the lead for good 1:24 into the second half and built an 11-point lead at one point before spending the rest of the game fending off repeated charges by the hosts. Purdue cut the deficit down to a single point on seven separate occasions-seven, including four times in the final minute-but every single time the Wildcats had an answer.
Josh Hart carried the offense with 24 points, and six others chipped in between seven and 12 points. Fordham transfer Eric Paschall also scored all 11 of his points in the second half, while also helping the Wildcats do just enough defensively.
An underrated trait of last year’s Villanova team was how it played much bigger than its height, holding its own defensively and on the glass against teams with a size advantage. The Wildcats did so again versus Purdue’s tall timber, though it was far from easy.
Seven-footer Isaac Haas scored 22 points, and the Boilermakers fed him time and again late as fouls became an issue for the 6-7 Paschall and Daryl Reynolds (Paschall eventually fouled out). Caleb Swanigan also netted 20, but Villanova’s frontcourt was able to use its fouls wisely and battled to a near-draw on the boards.
With the win, Villanova already has a significant chip in any NCAA Tournament resume, one that could well be the difference between a 1 and a 2 seed in March. Not that the Wildcats needed to reintroduce themselves, but if anyone forgot just what made them so good a year ago, they provided a firm reminder Monday.
- The ESPN Tip-Off Marathon is in action as we type this. Among the results overnight: Gonzaga handled San Diego State 69-48, as Cal transfer Jordan Mathews already made a difference (17 points, five three-pointers) and the Aztecs’ offense as in midseason form, which is to say it was really, really ugly.
- Also overnight: Damon Stoudamire picked up a nice win for his first at Pacific, as the Tigers shut down Wisconsin-Green Bay in the second half to win 76-58. Hawaii won a thriller in the marathon for the second year in a row, with Gibson Johnson’s basket with 6.3 seconds left was the difference in a 64-63 win over Florida Atlantic’s Owls. And this morning saw Hartford nip Niagara 82-78 in overtime, holding on in large part because of 35 points from Jalen Ross and after the Purple Eagles rallied from a 14-point deficit.
- The WCC also picked up a solid home win when BYU outlasted Princeton 82-73. Welcome back to Eric Mika, who tallied 26 points and 18 rebounds in his first game back from a two-year Mormon mission. Also: freshman T.J. Haws-Tyler’s brother-scored 20 points in his first game returning from a mission. The Cougars look to have ample offensive firepower once again this year.
- One is an accident, but two is a trend in the case of Connecticut, which followed up a season-opening loss to Wagner with a 64-61 loss last night to Northeastern in a battle of Huskies as well as former Jim Calhoun coaching stops. This is supposed to be a rebuilding year for Northeastern, but T.J. Williams is one of the guys being counted on to pick up his game for Bill Coen and totaled 20 points, seven rebounds and six assists. For UConn…yuck. Where was the beef inside? Amida Brimah blocked eight shots, yet NU still owned the glass 47-38 in this one.
- The AAC also had another black mark as New Hampshire won at Temple 57-52. The Wildcats are one of the favorites in the America East, but this is still a stunner, one of the bigger wins in UNH history.
- Xavier pummeled a presumably good Buffalo team 86-53, as the Bulls had more fouls (38) and turnovers (21) combined-59 total-than points. Also, the Musketeers’ city rival Cincinnati got a tussle from Albany for a half but pulled away in the final 20 minutes for a 74-51 win.
- One would think Minnesota couldn’t possibly be as bad as a year ago, and the signs sure were good last night as the Golden Gophers hammered Texas-Arlington 84-67, pounding the Mavericks on the glass 47-32 and posting six in double figures. Few will realize it, but that’s a solid win and a very encouraging one for the Gophers.
- Marquette used its four-guard lineup to pull away from Howard for an 81-49 win. The Bison are considerably hamstrung right now as James Daniel-the nation’s leading scorer last year-is out 2-4 weeks due to an ankle injury.
- Old Dominion earned its second win over an in-state foe, edging Richmond 64-61 to snap a 10-game losing streak on the road in the series.
- There were two other significant upset winners. Prairie View A&M became the first SWAC team to sting someone on the road this year, winning at Fresno State 84-78. Also: Furman won at UAB 84-74. Daniel Fowler was the best player on the court with 23 points and eight rebounds for the Paladins, while the Blazers did not respond well in their first game without point guard Nick Norton, out for the year with an ACL injury.
Today’s Menu: It’s a busy, busy day with the Tip-Off Marathon continuing, as well as a number of other quality games:
- Dayton pummeled Alabama in the tip-off marathon last year, but now makes a return trip to face the Crimson Tide for a 1:15 p.m. ET (ESPN2) tip. That’s followed by Oregon at Baylor (3:30 p.m., ESPN2), which will be a terrific test for the Ducks to figure it out minus Dillon Brooks.
- Monmouth takes to the road for the first time to take on South Carolina, in a game matching two teams both snubbed from the NCAAs last year. Should be an absolute blast. The Hawks’ MAAC nemesis Iona also begins its brutal non-conference road schedule when it travels to face Florida State.
- Maryland and Georgetown play for the second year in a row (6:30 p.m., FS1), and if it’s anything like last year’s, all watching are in for a treat.
- The not-so-humbly-named Champions Classic is back again, this year with Kentucky against Michigan State (7 p.m., ESPN) followed by Kansas meeting Duke (9:30 p.m., ESPN).
- Two old OVC rivals get acquainted again as Murray State is at Middle Tennessee State.
- Long Beach State’s road gauntlet continues. After playing at Wichita State, next up: North Carolina. Oof.
- Like Oregon, Wisconsin also gets a terrific early road test when it plays at Creighton (8:30 p.m., FS1).
- Supremacy in Nashville is on the line when Belmont goes to Memorial Gynasium to play Vanderbilt.
- Finally, Cal State-Bakersfield-the WAC’s NCAA tourney representative last year that played Oklahoma well in the first round of the tourney-faces a tall task when it travels to Arizona.
Enjoy a long Tuesday of basketball.