Second Half Explosion Propels Nova to Victory, ‘Cats Capture Another Big 5 Title

PHILADELPHIA– Aside from Penn winning the Big 5 title outright last season, it has mostly been Villanova taking home the illustrious crown as well as city bragging rights.

Normalcy has been restored as Villanova took down Temple in an unusual February non-conference game by a final score of 76-56 at the Liacouras Center on Sunday afternoon.

This year marks the sixth time in the last seven years that Villanova has won the Big 5 title outright as well as sweeping the city series.

“I’m very proud of that,” Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright said. “It’s something we’ll talk about at the end of the season, it’s great, I’m happy, but at the end of the year we’ll look back and be very proud of this.”

A Big 5 title for Villanova was clinched a long time ago, back on December 7 to be exact, after they defeated Saint Joseph’s on Hawk Hill, but Sunday’s victory clinched the outright title. Had they lost, they would share the title with their opponents, but thanks to a huge second half, that was all for naught.

Heading into the halftime break, Villanova trailed the Owls 30-26, with Collin Gillespie scoring 15 of their 26 points at halftime.

The Wildcats were in trouble from the jump when both of their featured freshmen Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Justin Moore sat out for most of the first half with two quick fouls.

“I think we overcoached a little bit with those two out,” Wright said. “We were running a lot of sets and bogging ourselves down and Temple’s playing good defense too but we were making it easy for them to play good defense because we were just trying to go through certain guys because everybody was out, that was not smart on my part

Then, the Wildcats did what they have done to teams so many times in Wright’s tenure on the Main Line: Knock down three after three after three.

The Wildcats went on a 20-2 run to start the second half, putting them up 46-52 before the Owls could even blink an eye.

Six of the seven Wildcats successful offensive possessions came as a result of the three-ball and in the second half, they went 13-of-21 from beyond the arc (62 percent).

“We just made shots,” Wright said. “We haven’t done that a lot, when that happens any team is tough to beat, it started with the defensive effort in the second half, I was proud of that and that led to making shots and I think that together was the difference.”

Villanova ended up going 17-of-36 from beyond the arc, their fourth most attempts in a game this season and their second most makes this season.

Wright is known to say “Shoot ’em up sleep in the streets” in regards to the three-ball, but the Wildcats have had games where they take as many as 41 threes, and some games where they take as little as 10.

“We’re searching for threes and certain teams take that away and that does open up other things,” Wright said. “It’s one of the things we haven’t been great at this year, I thought we did a really good job today, we call it mixing it up and just reading what they’re taking away and that takes time, we’re getting better at that.”

On the other side, Temple shot just 2-of-16 from deep, something that’s been the root of the Owls problems this season.

Even though the Owls shoot just 32 percent from beyond the arc and rank 234th in the NCAA, there is always still a threat for any team to get hot from deep, and Wright wasn’t going to take a chance on that.

“I think one of the things they do a good job of is, and they’re similar to us, we’re not a great three-point shooting team, we’re good, but if you take them there’s always that fear that you can get hot and it can open the game up,” Wright said. “So you still got to guard it, I think some teams that aren’t great three-point shooting teams don’t shoot it, it’s easier to guard them, they shoot them and it spreads you out, that’s why they get to the basket so well, so you’re always afraid they can get it going from three, we are at least.”

For Gillespie, he finished the game with 29 points, going 11-of-19 from the field and 7-of-11 from deep, to go along with five assists.

His 29 points is a season-high and one shy of tying his career-high in points. His seven three-pointers were a career-high.

“I was just catching and shoot when I had opportunities,” Gillespie said. “Our 5-men and other guys were dribble handing-off and setting great screens and getting me open so credit to my teammates for finding me early on and I was just confident and stepping into shoot.”

While this win does not affect the Wildcats standing in the Big East, they improve their record to 19-6. One more win will secure the eighth consecutive 20-win season for Wright and his 15th in the last 16 years.

Up next for Villanova is a trip to Chicago to take on Big East cellar-dweller DePaul on Wednesday night at 9:00. The game can be seen on CBS Sports Network.

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Heading into Sunday’s contest against Villanova, there was a chance for Temple to take home a share of the Big 5 title, but they had to get through the city’s juggernaut to do that.

Mission failed.

The Owls couldn’t hold off the storm that is Villanova long enough to take a piece of the Big 5 title in Aaron McKie‘s first season at the helm as the Owls fell by a final score of 76-56.

“We had a chance today to get a piece of the Big 5 which would’ve meant a lot to me,” McKie said. “Tt’s not like winning it outright but it would’ve meant a lot to me because just growing up watching it and playing in it, it’s special to me, it’s something that as a kid I aspired to play in, I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be coaching in the Big 5 as well but here I am and it would’ve been great for me to lead this program and get a piece of the Big 5, especially with a team like Villanova and what Jay has done with that program.”

There was hope, mainly in the first half, when the Owls led by as much as six with about two minutes to go, as well as when they went into the locker room leading 30-26. But all hope was lost when Villanova exploded out the gate on a 20-2 run to go up 46-32 with 14:14 to go in the game. The Wildcats would continue to build on their lead thanks to the three-ball and eventually win by 20.

“They were making shots, it was right there in front of you, it wasn’t anything that they were doing that was complicated, just some of our miscues they made us pay for them and they were shooting with our guys right there in their face,” McKie said. “The guys knew the gameplan coming in was to get those guys off the three-point line, that’s their calling card, they get it in the paint and they dribble, dribble, dribble and some of our guys got lost and they kicked it out and made the three, once they made a couple to start the second half, the basket just got big for everybody.”

While the Wildcats hot three-point shooting certainly was a killer, Villanova guard Collin Gillespie was a killer himself in this game, scoring 29 points while shooting 11-of-19 from the field and 7-of-11 from three.

Getting the main defensive assignment was Owls guard Nate Pierre-Louis, who couldn’t seem to neutralize Gillespie all game.

“I put a lot of blame on myself,” Pierre-Louis said. “I take full responsibility, I feel like I lost him a couple times in the second half, he got easy shots, I was there, I was contesting I did my job on a lot of those possessions but I take full responsibility.”

“You still gotta tip your cap, he made a lot of tough shots.” Owls wing Quinton Rose added.

“I have no issues with Nate and what he did on the defensive side,” McKie said. “Sometimes when you’re playing against guys like that, you’re not gonna have any answers, and these are college basketball players but you watch it on television with the pros where they try all types of junk defenses against the better scorers and they still don’t have any answers for it, but Gillespie trumped us this afternoon, he just made some tough shots.”

The Owls offensive struggles continued once again on Sunday afternoon, with this being the sixth time this season the Owls have been held under 60 points. Their 2-of-16 performance from three is their second-worst three-point showing this season.

While Rose scored 22 points and Pierre-Louis finished with 16 points, the Owls once again were consistent in finding an inconsistent third scorer. The third-highest point total for the Owls on Sunday was Monty Scott‘s 7 points.

“It’s been like a revolving door for us with that,” McKie said. “You would hope that you would get more consistency from it, guys get looks, be confident and knock them down and it’s really been our achillies heel, we understand coming into games what we have to do to win games, we have to be perfect on the defensive side and I thought we were good in the first half and just wasn’t there in the second half.”

The loss drops Temple to 13-12 on the season. Up next for Temple is a home game against AAC foe UConn on Thursday night at 7:00. The game can be seen on ESPN2.

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