Villanova head coach Jay Wright was concerned. Despite his team’s drastic improvement in just about every aspect of the game since the beginning of the season, he knew that they were still susceptible to good three-point shooting teams. They had struggled to defend the three-point line all year, and it finally cost them on Monday night.
Coming off an impressive victory over then-17th-ranked Marquette at home, the Wildcats traveled to the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey to take on the Seton Hall Pirates, a team that had lost nine straight games coming in, with Villanova having beaten them in ten straight.
Statistically, Seton Hall (14-15 overall, 3-13 Big East) is a team that lives and dies by the three-point shot. Coming into the game, 35.5% of their points on the season were from long-range, ranking 21st in the country. They ranked second in the Big East with an average of seven made threes a game. Defensively, Villanova (18-11, 9-7) allowed their opponents to make 35.7% of their long-range attempts coming in, good for 263rd in the country, and had allowed a Big East-leading 195 threes on the year. On paper, the potential for a Seton Hall upset was there, and it became a shocking reality in the 66-65 loss to the Pirates.
“Tough, tough game,” Jay Wright said. “It’s been these kind of teams that have given us trouble. We knew it coming in and you got to give them credit.”
Seton Hall came out firing, going 3 for 3 from beyond the arc early on, while the Wildcats missed 6 of their first 8 shots, allowing the Pirates to take a 9-5 lead at the first media timeout. Kyle Smyth, who came in averaging just 4.5 points per game, drained his first four attempts from long range en-route to a 20-14 Pirate advantage at the 9:00 mark of the first half. Villanova followed with an 8-0 run, capped off by a mid-court steal and ensuing layup by Ryan Arcidiacono, and the Wildcats held a 22-20 lead with 5:35 remaining before intermission. Seton Hall made 9 field goals in the first half, with 8 of them being from three-point range. They didn’t convert a two-point basket until almost 17 minutes had elapsed.
The two teams entered halftime knotted at 32, with ‘Nova making 10 of 11 attempts from the free throw line. The Pirates converted 8 of 13 (61.5%) from beyond the arc, while the ‘Cats made just 2 of 11. Arcidiacono led the way for Villanova with 11 points, while Senior Mouphtaou Yarou added 6 points and 7 rebounds. Kyle Smyth finished the half 4 for 5 from three, leading Seton Hall with 12 points.
Aaron Cosby sank three threes in the opening five minutes of the second half, with the third giving the Pirates a 43-40 lead. The Wildcats went the first 5:43 without a field goal, although they converted 8 of 8 free throws during that time. Arcidacono’s three-pointer with one second left on the shot clock provided Villanova with its first basket. Yarou’s follow-up bucket with 10:45 to play enabled the Wildcats to match their largest lead of the game to that point, 49-45. Seton Hall, however, held the visitors without a field goal for the next four minutes and regained the lead, 53-51, on a Brian Oliver three with 7:24 remaining.
JayVaughn Pinkston converted a three-point play that ended a 7-0 run, and the Wildcats took their largest lead of the game with 5:32 left, 58-53. Following a loose ball scrum three minutes later, Seton Hall’s Tom Mayaan flopped to the floor drawing a foul on Pinkston, with replays showing him smirking to the home crowd as he got up, thinking he just got away with a superb acting job. The officials went to the monitor, however, and ended up handing out technicals on both players, giving Pinkston his fifth foul of the game, forcing him to watch from the bench the rest of the way.
The Pirates whittled the Villanova lead down to 60-59 on a layup by Fuquan Edwin with 2:27 left. The ‘Cats gave themselves some breathing room on a critical three-point basket by Darrun Hilliard with 1:16 remaining, but Brian Oliver’s two free throws at the 57.2 second mark narrowed the Wildcat lead back down to two, 63-61.
It appeared as though the visitors would escape with the victory when Mouphtaou Yarou sank a baseline jumper to give them a 65-61 lead with 24.6 seconds to play, but the Pirates just wouldn’t give up. James Bell committed a crucial foul on Edwin with 16.3 seconds remaining, and after two converted free throws, it was a two-point game yet again, 65-63. After the ensuing in-bounds pass by Arcidiacono in the face of Seton Hall’s full-court press, Bell attempted to split two defenders off the dribble, but the ball was stolen away by Mayaan. Falling to the floor, he was able to get a pass off to Edwin in the corner, and the 6’6 Junior guard nailed a three with 8.9 seconds left, giving Seton Hall a 66-65 lead.
After a timeout, Villanova setup a play for the win, but Ryan Arcidiacono’s 18-footer from the corner clanged off the rim as the buzzer sounded, and Seton Hall had completed the upset.
The Pirates finished the night converting 13 out of 21 (61.9%) three-pointers, the most in any Big East game this season. Despite an impressive 25 for 27 performance from the free throw line for the Wildcats, they made just 4 of 18 from beyond the arc, while also committing 17 turnovers. Arcidiacono led four Wildcats with double figures in scoring with 16 points, adding 4 assists but 5 giveaways. JayVaughn Pinkston finished with 15 points, while Mouphtaou Yarou recorded his seventh double-double of the season, adding 14 points and 15 rebounds. Aaron Cosby scored 21 points for the Pirates to go along with 6 assists and 5 rebounds, and Fuquan Edwin added 18 points and 7 rebounds.
During a year in which Villanova was picked to finish 12th in the preseason Big East coaches’ poll, the Wildcats have enjoyed unexpected success. They have built their resume up to being NCAA Tournament-worthy, and despite the severe damage done to it on Monday night with the loss to Seton Hall, their tournament hopes are not dashed just yet. With two games remaining on their schedule against 23rd-ranked Pittsburgh on the road and 7th-ranked Georgetown at home, the opportunity is there to get another signature win. With a 3-1 record against the RPI top-25, already better than just about every other NCAA team currently on the bubble, a split of their last two games will more than likely be enough to get them into the Big Dance. Also interesting to note is the fact that 120 of the last 124 Big East teams that were able to accumulate at least ten conference wins have made the NCAA Tournament. With a current conference record of 9-7, one more win would get the Wildcats to ten.
Regardless of what happens, it has been a tremendous season for Jay Wright and the Villanova Wildcats. With just two Seniors on the squad, the young players on the team are gaining valuable experience that will serve them very well in years to come. With two top recruits coming in next year and the majority of the roster remaining intact, Villanova could be great instead of good in 2014.
For the time being, however, they still have work to do. The NCAA Tournament, an unrealistic goal prior to the season, is still within reach.
Tags: Jay Wright, JayVaughn Pinkston, loss, March Madness, NCAA, NCAA Tournament, Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova