Villanova was coming off a historic week in which they got the best of two then-top 5 teams in the country, with both games being played in South Philly. Going on the road in the Big East and beating a very good Notre Dame team at Purcell Pavilion quite possibly would have made an even bigger statement, but the Wildcats came up just a little short, reminding everyone that this is still a very young team, albeit talented and getting better each game. There is a reason that the Fighting Irish were almost a double digit favorite going into last night’s contest. They’d won 47 of their last 50 home games, and the Wildcats were due for a letdown after their two remarkable, back-to-back upset wins against Louisville and Syracuse last week.
Villanova, who led at halftime for the 15th straight time, were up by three with 14 minutes to go. Ten minutes later, they trailed by eight. And that was still the margin with just over 90 seconds left. Notre Dame left the door open by missing the front end of two one-and-ones, and Darrun Hilliard‘s three-pointer from the left wing made it a three-point game with 24 seconds left, giving Nova some hope, and leaving the home crowd uneasy. But following a turnover, Hilliard’s game-tying 3 point attempt clanged off the rim and fell into the hands of Notre Dame’s Jack Cooley, who recorded his 16th rebound of the night and converted two free throws with 13.3 seconds left on the clock. A Mouphtaou Yarou layup 8 seconds later made it close, but a breakaway layup by Eric Atkins off a long inbounds pass made the 65-60 win official for the Irish.
Notre Dame (17-4 overall, 5-3 Big East) had just dropped out of the Top 25 and Villanova (13-8, 4-4) had just started receiving votes in the poll.
The Wildcats knew coming in that they were going to have to do a better job defending the 3-point line, an area of their game that they’ve struggled with, since Notre Dame shot close to 40 percent from there as a team. They failed to do so, resulting in the Irish making 9 of 21 (42.9%) from beyond the arc, which ended up being the difference.
Cooley, the only player in the Big East who’s averaging a double-double, also scored 17. Jerian Grant had 12 points, 10 assists and four steals. In fact, Notre Dame had 20 assists on 24 field goals, and only one turnover in the second half. Freshman Cameron Biedscheid however ended up burning Villanova the most, finishing with a career-high 18 points, 15 after intermission, on 5-for-7 shooting from 3-point range. In his previous seven Big East games, he’d scored 25 points total.
The Wildcats got 20 points from Mouphtaou Yarou (8-for-12), which matched his season high after he had a season-best 16 boards against the Orange. They outscored the Irish by seven at the foul line, and only had nine turnovers, about half their average and one off their season low. But they went 3-for-11 from three, where they’re 10-0 when making at least 6.
On Sunday, Villanova gets Providence (10-10 overall, 2-6 Big East) on the Main Line at the Pavilion, the start of a three game stretch where they’ll play the bottom 3 teams in the Big East standings. The Friars beat the Wildcats in Rhode Island by 3 on Jan. 19th, so another loss to them, this time at home, would not bode well for Nova’s NCAA tournament hopes.Tags: Big Five, Darrun Hilliard, loss, Mouphtaou Yarou, NCAA, Villanova