NEW YORK– If it wasn’t already, Villanova and Providence has turned into rivalry at the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden.
Meeting for the fourth time in the six years since the Big East re-aligned to 10 teams back in the 2013-14 season, the two teams always seem to come down to the wire in their matchups at the Garden.
For most of the game’s entirety, it looked like we were going to get another Villanova/Providence barnburner at the Mecca. That was, until Villanova pulled away late and ended up winning by a final score of 73-62.
Providence never really had a lead aside from early on in the first half, but they kept hanging around until Villanova delivered the final blow in the game’s final four minutes.
“I just think they’re really well coached, and (Providence head coach Ed Cooley) been there a long time, I’ve been there, we really know what each other are doing,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “And we’ve had so many tough games with each other. I think the players are very comfortable in terms of style of play, look at last year, we went to the NCAA Tournament — you can say it afterwards pretty handily — but this game here, we could have easily lost against Providence in overtime.”
Senior forward Eric Paschall led the way with 20 points for the Wildcats. Junior guard Collin Gillespie finished with 19, and senior guard Phil Booth scored 13.
All year long, Villanova has been looking for that third scorer to go along with Booth and Paschall and they still haven’t found a consistent one yet. Heading into the season, many thought that Gillespie would be the third option, but he, like all of the other Wildcats not named Booth or Paschall, has been inconsistent.
On Thursday afternoon, Gillespie showed that he can be that third-option, especially in a big game, especially from deep as he went 5-10 from beyond the arc.
“He’s another guy who’s a sophomore and kind of treating him like a senior,” Wright said. “He’s got to be a leader, and he’s got a lot on his shoulders too, he’s been awesome all year, on and off the court, he’s a leader in this program.
One interesting note from this game was that freshman wing Cole Swider played in his first meaningful minutes since returning from a right hand injury that sidelined him for most of the Big East regular season. Swider played one minute of garbage time in their victory over Butler on March 2. This time, Swider played 15 minutes.
“It was awesome to get back out there and just help my teammates, and just playing hard for my teammates and coaches,” Swider said. “Coach always tells us to be ready so I was ready to play however many minutes he wanted me to play or he was going to let me play so I was ready.”
Swider finished with five points on 1-3 shooting, and 1-2 from deep, with one rebound and two assists.
“His length defensively was great,” Wright said. “offensively, he’s always a threat to score, he got himself to the foul line, we couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
“For being out — he was out six weeks without being able to play and being able to practice, probably hasn’t played in a game really in seven, eight weeks, it was really impressive.” Wright added.
Up next for Villanova is a date with Xavier where the Wildcats have split the season series with the Musketeers. Villanova took the first game at home against Xavier by a final score of 85-75 on January 18 while Xavier defended their home-court by beating the Wildcats 66-54 on February 24.