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Villanova’s Jermaine Samuels hears it from the crowd — he earned it

The sophomore wing might have saved the Wildcats from an upset loss to Temple.

The Villanova team crowds around Jermaine Samuels #23, left,  after defeating Temple, 69-59.
The Villanova team crowds around Jermaine Samuels #23, left, after defeating Temple, 69-59.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer (custom credit)

An MVP chant began from a section of Villanova students close to the home team’s bench. When the game ended, Villanova players kind of mobbed the chant’s recipient.

If you saw how Villanova slipped past Temple late Wednesday night, you get it. Flying blind? Start guessing. Keep guessing.

Not that Jermaine Samuels isn’t capable. The sophomore wing began the season in Villanova’s starting lineup, but it was his defense and rebounding that really got him there, and when the defending national champs needed to switch things up after losses to Michigan and Furman, it was Samuels who slipped out of the starting lineup, losing some minutes in the process. His play had been maybe a little too mechanical, his outside shots not falling.

Update: Villanova was on the ropes against the Owls, down 5 with 11½ minutes left, with Temple in the flow, Villanova far from it. Then, Samuels hit his first open three. Temple’s scouting report had focused on the players who weren’t shooting 4 of 20 on threes, as Samuels had been.

By the end, he made a trio of threes, led ‘Nova with 15 points, and was one of four on his team with seven rebounds, as the Wildcats survived, 69-59.

“That’s what good programs do,’’ mentioned Temple guard Shizz Alston. “Someone steps up who you’re not really expecting to.”

Villanova coach Jay Wright noted how the Cats had been the ones falling victim to unexpected heroes this season. Saturday, for instance, La Salle’s Jack Clark made three threes.

“He hadn’t even played,’’ Wright said.

Owls coach Fran Dunphy said his team was told not to leave Samuels after he hit that first three, but Villanova had gone a little smaller to chase the game, and with the Cats down 5 again a few minutes later, Samuels hit again.

The rest of the way, it felt like his game, with Joe Cremo adding some big plays after Temple forced the action too much while it had the lead. The game swung came when Samuels got going. The Wildcats pulled in front for good with just under 5 minutes left -- on a third Samuels three.

Moving him out of the lineup -- did he handle that all right?

“Yeah, unbelievable,’’ Wright said. “He’s the sweetest kid in the world.”

Wright paused. “So happy. It’s like when you’re a parent. When you have a good kid who’s trying to do the right things, you’re just so happy for him.”

It wasn’t just his shots down the stretch. Maybe it was no coincidence, but Samuels also led both teams in late energy. He went right around a Temple big man for an offensive put-back. In the last minute, with Villanova protecting a lead, Phil Booth heaved an inbounds pass in Samuels’ general direction, except it came up more than a couple of feet short, seemingly to a couple of Temple players. Except Samuels went and got it.

The truth is, Villanova’s starting lineup works the way it is now. Freshman Saddiq Bey offers all sorts of elements, as shown by his three assists in 'Nova’s first five possessions. Samuels said he hadn’t been getting frustrated, but he had been working extra on his shot. Wright noted it had been going in plenty in practice.

“Somebody steps up or they don’t -- then you have to learn from that,’’ Wright said. “So this kind of play impacts our confidence.”

The entire team’s confidence, he meant. This Villanova team needs multiple contributors and, sometimes, unexpected contributors. Merely walking on the court won’t get it done. That mini-mob scene as the handshake line formed after the final buzzer backed it all up. If you were there, you could guess who was in the middle of that.

The MVP chant? The recipient said he heard that, too.