Darrun Hilliard led the Wildcats with 14 points in Monday’s win over Rutgers. (Lucas Migliarino/The Villanovan)
By Nick Fattori
The men’s basketball team squared off against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights Monday night at the Pavilion and prevailed 71-63. With the win, ’Nova moves to 17-10 (8-6) and the Scarlet Knights fall to 13-12 (4-10).
The ’Cats were coming off a 70-61 upset win on the road over UConn.
Rutgers on the other hand had just dropped a game at DePaul 75-69.
One game after scoring 25 points in the win against UConn, freshman point guard Ryan Arcidiacono followed up with a fast start hitting two early threes and finishing with 14 points for the night.
The game started off different from most fans’ expectations. Freshman center Daniel Ochefu—who has been a starter for most of the Big East slate—came off the bench in favor of sophomore power forward JayVaughn Pinkston, who had been the team’s sixth man for most of the season.
The theme of the night was the resurgent second half by ’Nova, combined with an even scoring distribution among the Wildcat starters.
Including this win, the ’Cats have now won seven of their last eight contests against the Scarlet Knights dating back to the ’08-’09 season.
During the first half the ’Cats were paced by senior center Mouphtaou Yarou who nearly had a double-double with eight points and 10 boards.
The Scarlet Knights were led by sophomore shooting guard Myles Mack who had 16 points, six rebounds and two assists in the first half alone.
At the end of the first intermission, Rutgers held a decisive 31-21 lead and was controlling the game. They were getting better shots, not turning the ball over and did not let ’Nova control the glass like they usually do.
What plagued the ’Cats the most during the first half was their inability to make a shot—whether it was from the field or the foul line.
They shot only 30 percent from the field, including two for 10 behind the arc and a measly seven of 14 from the foul line.
On the other side, the Scarlet Knights shot nearly 42 percent, including two of four from the three and making nine of their 10 foul shots. This was the clear difference between the teams during the first half.
The second half was more of a back-and-forth battle. The ’Cats came out strong and refused to quit even though they faced a sizable deficit.
Sophomore and junior shooting guards Darrun Hilliard and James Bell hit timely shots and helped the team back into the game.
Down 33-21 early in the second half, ’Nova went on a 23-10 run that propelled the ’Cats to their first lead since 14-12.
Finally, with 10:04 left in the game James Bell broke a 47-all tie to give the ’Cats the lead for good.
“All of these experiences for us are big for us,” head coach Jay Wright said after the game. “I think they are mature enough now to still win and learn…earlier in the year I thought we had to lose and learn…this game is going to help us a lot.”
On the night, all five Villanova starters finished in double figures. Arcidiacono, Hilliard and Pinkston all tallied 14 points, while Bell had 11 and Yarou finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds.
’Nova rebounded from their poor first half shooting and responded in the second half by shooting nearly 57 percent, hitting six of their 10 threes, and 18 of 22 foul shots.
They also committed zero second half turnovers and only seven on the night, which is nine under their average.
“We just have to have trust in each other that no matter what happens whether we are up or down that we play Villanova basketball,” said Arcidiacono. “In the second half we set the tone on how the rest of the game was going to be…I thought that was big of our team, knowing we were going to grind until the very end.”
Rutgers had come into the game dropping six of their last seven games with their sole win a two-point win against fellow Big East bottom feeder Seton Hall.
This was also the first game for the Scarlet Knights without Eli Carter, their leading scorer on the season with 14.9 points per game. Carter broke his leg in their game against DePaul and will be out for the remainder of the season.
Without Carter, Mack picked up the slack and finished with a game-high 24 points, along with eight rebounds and five assists.
Sophomore power forward Kadeem Jack came off the bench to also contribute 12 points and seven rebounds.
“They [Villanova] had a great response…their shooters stepped up and did what they needed to do,” Rutgers head coach Mike Rice said in the post-game press conference. “We didn’t decide what we wanted to do on offense…I think they dictated way too much in the second half on us.”
With confidence now sky-high for the ’Cats, they return to action Saturday night at the Pavilion against the No. 17 Marquette Gold Eagles. The game time is slated for 6 p.m.
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi updated his bracket Tuesday and ’Nova has reclaimed a spot in the “Last Four In” section. They are projected as a 12 seed, and would play in the First Four in Dayton, Ohio.