Sophomore guard Ryan Arcidiacono scored 21 points, including the go-ahead layup and free throw. (Kelly Ryan/The Villanovan)
by Frank Scicchitano
Villanova finished a three-game Big East road trip as it traveled to Rhode Island to take on Providence Tuesday night. The Wildcats were seeking to repeat the result of their first meeting with the Friars this season when they won in dominating fashion at the Pavilion.
Providence, on the other hand, came into the game needing a victory over a quality opponent to boost their tournament resume. However, a loss was not on the agenda for the No. 9 Wildcats as they held off the Friars in what could arguably be one of the best Big East games of the season.
It took two overtime periods to decide the winner, but a clutch layup from Ryan Arcidiacono with three seconds on the clock gave Villanova the lead late in the second overtime. A free throw followed the go-ahead shot and the Wildcats would go on to win by a score of 82-79.
In the 60th straight start of his career, the sophomore guard finished with 21 points despite not breaking into the scoring column until the final two minutes of the opening half. He also added six assists and three steals to round out yet another impressive performance.
The Friars capitalized on a few early Villanova turnovers to fuel a 13-2 run and take a 22-13 lead with just over 11 minutes remaining in the first half. This nine point margin would be the largest the ’Cats faced all night.
A 3-pointer from junior guard Darrun Hilliard was part of a 7-0 Villanova run that cut the deficit to two points. The Wildcats regained the lead on Arcidiacono’s first of four 3-point jumpers but a costly foul allowed Providence star point guard Bryce Cotton to hit two free throws and tie the game at 33 heading into halftime.
Both sides started the second half trading scores until a dunk by sophomore forward Daniel Ochefu gave the ’Cats a five-point lead at the 13:40 mark. A few minutes later, Cotton and Arcidiacono exchanged 3-pointers and the crowd at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center knew they were in for an exciting finish.
Trailing 63-58 late in the game, Providence’s Cotton hit two free throws to cut ’Nova’s lead to just three points. Then, with less than 30 seconds remaining, the Friars’ LaDontae Henton hit a game-tying 3-pointer to knot the score up at 63. This was the only field goal of the night for the junior forward who spent most of the game on the bench in foul trouble.
Arcidiacono could not convert on a potential game-winner and the game headed to overtime.
Villanova trailed most of the first overtime period until Hilliard connected from beyond the arc to give the Wildcats a 72-70 lead. Cotton immediately answered for the Friars with an acrobatic reverse layup to tie the game and Arcidiacono once again failed with a chance to win the game for the ’Cats, this time missing a layup.
In the second overtime, an Ochefu dunk put Villanova up by one and JayVaughn Pinkston added a bank shot to give the Wildcats a three-point lead. However, on a night when he shot just 6-of-20 from the field, Cotton hit a three to tie the game at 79 with just 24 seconds left.
For the third time, Arcidiacono took the ball across half court with a chance to win the game. This time he used a screen, put the ball on the floor and drove right past Providence’s Kadeem Batts to sink the game-winning layup. After the foul shot, Villanova secured a hard-fought 82-79 victory and proved once again that they can hang on to win a close game.
Coming into the game, it was likely that foul shooting would play a major role in the outcome of the game. The Friars entered the matchup as the nation’s best free throw shooting team, and made 20 of their 24 attempts tonight. Conversely, Villanova saw a less-than-desirable 15-of-24 performance from the charity stripe, and it almost resulted in their downfall.
Pinkston, who struggled the most at the line, made up for it by going 8-of-12 from the field and dominating Providence in the post. The powerful forward finished with 20 points and six rebounds and was once again Villanova’s most reliable scoring option down low.
Senior James Bell was the team’s leading rebounder as he grabbed nine boards. He added 17 points, including back-to-back 3-point jumpers early in the first half.
Ochefu and Hilliard each finished with 11 points as every player in the starting lineup broke into double-digits.
For Providence, Cotton led the way with 22 points while Batts added 21 before he fouled out late in the game. Guard Josh Fortune was 4-of-5 from three and finished with 16 points, but did most of his damage in the first half and was virtually a non-factor down the stretch.
The victory improves Villanova to 11-2 in the Big East and 23-3 overall. With the loss, Providence falls to an even 7-7 in the conference with an overall record of 17-10.
The Wildcats return home this Saturday to face St. John’s at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Tipoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. with the annual Winter Jam festivities scheduled to take place prior to the game around the arena.