Coming into tonight, Villanova’s last game was on December 23, a win against Marquette in Milwaukee by a final score of 85-68.
In the time between Christmas Eve Eve and January 19, we’ve had Christmas, New Years, two weeks of the NFL Regular Season, two playoff rounds, and the entirety of the College Football Playoff be played.
Long time, right?
Imagine having to spend most of that time in a hotel.
In a COVID-19 world, that’s what Villanova had to do, thanks to two separate quarantines, with a day of practice separating the two.
The first quarantine was because Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright tested positive for the virus. Once he was cleared, the Wildcats returned to practice, only to be sent right back to the hotel the next day due to two players testing positive for COVID, Jermaine Samuels, and Caleb Daniels.
It’s like getting out of prison, only to be sent right back a day later.
So heading into Tuesday’s clash with Seton Hall, it was pretty unknown what Villanova would look like in their return to the court. Would they be sluggish? Rusty? After all, they played their previous game last year! (Dad joke, I know)
Turns out, none of that was true. In fact, they looked as good as ever once the ball was tipped and once the final horn sounded, the Wildcats escaped with a 76-74 victory over the Pirates.
“I didn’t have any expectations,” Wright said. “I just wanted to see what happened, some good, some bad, great to get a win, I’m happy for our guys.”
The Wildcats and Pirates got out to a blazing start, combining for seven three-pointers in the game’s first six-ish minutes.
“I really think both teams were dialed in for that game and came out really executing,” Wright said. “I thought both teams were really ready to play.”
Heading into the game, it was unclear what the status of Samuels and Daniels would be. Both weren’t in the starting lineup but Samuels finished playing 32 minutes while Daniels played just 12.
“[Daniels] had more symptoms than Jermaine,” Wright said, “I think it affected him mentally more, he had been out because of his calf also so he was really trying to gut it out, he was not in shape to play.”
“We practiced Thursday, Friday and Sunday without Caleb and Jermaine,” Wright said. “So they had to get cleared for Myocarditis on Monday so we didn’t know if they were going to be able to play so we said on Thursday we’re going into this game as if they can’t play and this will be our starting lineup, so we practiced that way, so when they got cleared Monday we moved practice back and got them in there but you didn’t know what they were going to feel like after one day.”
One day Jermaine Samuels practiced, and he went out and scored 20 points for the Wildcats.
“I am truly amazed at Jermaine Samuels,” Wright said. “He literally practiced one day, had COVID and couldn’t practice until yesterday, to come out and to be able to play like that is incredible.”
“As soon as I found out I was cleared, I was extremely excited to take the floor and just go out there and try to contribute anyway I could,” Samuels said. “I know those guys were working hard just to be back, contributing was the most important thing to me, that’s one thing that was on my mind, and then leading up to the game, again my mindset was to just go in and contribute, play Villanova basketball, try and set the tone as best as I could and just try to lead by example.”
Collin Gillespie added 22 points for the Wildcats in their winning effort and he was only able to practice four days. Cole Swider finished with 9 points, but made a free throw late in the game to put the Wildcats ahead and effectively win them the game.
“Collin Gillespie, four days of practice, played 38 minutes,” Wright said. “I took him out and just turned around right away and put him back in, those guys stamina, Cole Swider had the big free throw there that was huge,”
Seton Hall’s main scoring contributions came in the form of Jared Rhoden and Sandro Mamukelashvili. Rhoden did most of his damage in the first half and finished with 19 points, while Mamukelashvili went to work in the second half, finishing with 23 points and had a chance to win the game, but dropped a full-court inbound pass that was a turnover.
“I thought we did a good job on Rhoden in the second half,” Wright said. “Killed us in the first half, thought we did a good job on him in the second half but Mamu got it going in the second half.”
Up next for Villanova is a date with Providence on Saturday at 2:30 pm.
For Villanova, Tuesday’s game was more than a game, it was a return to normalcy (In the COVID College Basketball World, which we all know isn’t normal by any means).
“Just going through a Gameday routine, it started with practice, going with practice, having somewhere you had to be, and being with the team was really enjoyable,” Wright said. “I think we are all really grateful just to be able to be playing,”
“I think we would’ve been upset if we lost, maybe not as upset as you normally are after a loss, I think we’re more grateful to be playing.” Wright added.