VILLANOVA– There have been a ton of great Villanova guards to come through the program, but nobody is more different from the rest than Kyle Lowry, who had his jersey retired on Wednesday night.
Lowry is gritty, he’s not a “smooth” or “flashy” player. He’s rugged, jagged, and that’s not a dig at Lowry, that’s what you’d expect out of a Philly ballplayer.
In today’s basketball world, everybody wants to make the highlight play, everyone wants to make some sort of move that would get you featured on SportsCenter or a highlight page on Instagram.
You saw his play from Tuesday night against the Milwaukee Bucks, the one where he tried to go under Bucks guard George Hill like a fullback on the goal line? Lowry got called for an offensive foul, and got ridiculed for it on social media.
For Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright, who coached Lowry from 2004 to 2006, he wants that type of toughness to be displayed by his current team.
“We talked about his play last night,” Wright said. “I don’t know if any of you saw it on twitter but it was a classic and the title said ‘Lowry is losing his mind’ and we all said ‘no that’s what he does in every pickup game all summer and the difference is he makes the call and it’s a foul on the other guy and he holds the ball until they say it’s your ball’ and they called an offensive foul on him in the league,”
“We were commenting on his toughness and his competitiveness and it’s something our young guys have to learn,” Wright added. “We learned a lesson tonight against St. John’s in that way, how tough and competitive everyone is in this league.”
Like Lowry’s play on the court, it wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done, as 12th-ranked Villanova took down St. John’s 71-60 at the Finneran Pavilion on Wednesday night.
“I know it was ugly but that’s what they do,” Wright said. “St. John’s deserves a lot of credit, they’re top 5 in the country in turning teams over and that’s what it’s going to be, it’s just what they do man, no matter how hard you try, they’re good at it.”
It was a hot start for Villanova, as they led 14-6 at the first media timeout, including knocking down four threes. The Wildcats led by as many as 13 in the first frame, but as the half continued, the offense stalled, and the Wildcats led by just two at Halftime.
“We were alright offensively and we just got into a funk,” Wright said. “We got into a funk where we missed a couple free throws and they make you tentative, we were attacking the basket hard, we were making extra passes and then everybody got tentative when they broke that 13-point lead down to two and we kind of regrouped at halftime.”
In the first half, St. John’s forced nine Villanova turnovers, something you really don’t see from Villanova, but St. John’s is one of the best teams in the nation at forcing turnovers. In the second half however, the Wildcats only coughed up the ball four times.
“Just more attacking their pressure to score rather than just trying to beat the pressure and try to run a play at the other end, I thought that made a difference for us.” Wright said.
For Villanova, their offense centered around Saddiq Bey and Justin Moore on Wednesday.
Bey, who scored a game-high 23 points on 7-of-14 shooting and 4-of-8 from deep, and Moore, who finished with 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting and 5-of-7 from three, combined for 44 of the Wildcats 71 points.
For Bey (16.1 ppg), this would be considered a “normal night” for the Sophomore wing, who’s draft stock rises more and more every game.
But for the freshman guard Moore, he’s had a season that any typical freshman would have. Some good, some bad, but as of late, it’s been a lot more good, then bad, as Wednesday’s game marked his third consecutive game scoring in double figures.
“He’s really growing as a player,” Wright said. “When they were just getting up into us and just challenging us just drive the ball, he made really tough plays, not just scoring but getting shots for his teammates and moving without the ball when his teammates drove and were getting open he was really good tonight.”
“I think my teammates found me in the right spots,” Moore said. “Just being aggressive, listening to coaching, and trying to make the right plays.”
Something you wouldn’t expect is Collin Gillespie going just 2-for-12 from the field and 0-for-7 from deep. Gillespie finished with eight points including 4-of-4 from the charity stripe.
St. John’s keyed in on keeping Gillespie from driving and scoring in the lane, but Gillespie still finished with a team-high four assists.
“There’s not many teams that can switch the 5-man onto your Point guard and keep your point guard out of the lane so if they can do it with their 5-man, then they can do it on everybody else too and that’s what they did a great job of and that’s what I say about getting tentative, they kept us out of the lane,
At some point during the game, it appeared that Gillespie got injured, which might’ve played a part in his poor shooting night.
“I don’t know how serious it is but he was hobbling,” Wright said. “We took him out, I asked if he was okay, of course he said yes but he was hobbling but as he increased the lead, I didn’t want to put him back in, he said he’s okay but he was obviously hobbling out there.”
The victory extends the Wildcats winning streak to five, something that was much needed after a three game losing streak just prior to this, and it improves their record to 22-6 and 11-4 in the Big East, tying them for second with Creighton and just one game behind Seton Hall as of February 27.
Up next for Villanova is a matchup against a hot Providence team at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday at noon. The game can be seen on FOX. In their previous contest up in Providence, Villanova defeated the Friars 64-60 on January 25.
As expected of a young team, that team is going to grow exponentially from the first game of the season up to the last few and for this particular Villanova team, it seems like they are really starting to hit their stride at the perfect time.
“For a young team, I’m proud of how we respond,” Wright said. “We get in these situations and we’re not good enough yet where we had a 13-point lead in the first half where we put somebody away, we don’t do that yet, and it has hurt us in some games, but most times, somebody makes a run at us, it just happened a couple times in the Xavier game and it happened a couple times tonight and we respond, we keep a positive attitude and keep playing, I’m proud of those guys for that.”