Villanova shot poorly enough for much of its game Wednesday night against Temple to appear to be in danger of seeing its 23-game winning streak in Big 5 play end.
But the 21st-ranked Wildcats, getting a major contribution from reserve forward Jermaine Samuels, roared from behind with a 12-0 run late in the second half and went on to a 69-59 victory over the Owls at the Finneran Pavilion, making it 24 wins in a row in the City Series.
Samuels, who came into the game with a 3.0 point average, provided a spark to the Wildcats’ comeback by scoring a team-high 15 points. Eleven of them came in a seven-minute stretch of the second half, a run that included three three-point baskets.
“I was just playing off my teammates really,” said Samuels, a 6-foot-7 sophomore who came into the game shooting only 4 of 20 from three-point range. “In our offense, it’s always catch and shoot, so I was open and I just wanted to knock it down, do it for my guys. It definitely gave me a little bit of a confidence boost.”
Samuels, who also had seven rebounds, drained a three and sank two free throws during a 12-0 run that brought the Wildcats (7-2, 2-0 Big 5) from a four-point deficit to a 55-47 lead with 3 minutes, 14 seconds remaining after Phil Booth sank a pair of free throws. Temple went nearly four minutes without a point until Shizz Alston hit a three-ball with 2:45 remaining to make it 55-50.
The Wildcats managed to keep the margin between five and seven for much of the remaining time, with Samuels hitting a follow-up basket and a pair of free throws. Collin Gillespie sank four free throws in the final minute to provide breathing room.
“Actually, we were more surprised that he hadn’t been making shots because he always shoots the ball well in practice and we know he can shoot the ball," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “We figured it was coming. But we saw more of what he’s been doing defensively and understanding our game plans and our scouting reports. He sparked us defensively in the first half. The shots were really icing on the cake.”
Temple coach Fran Dunphy, who received a standing ovation from the pro-Villanova crowd during pregame introductions, said Samuels "wasn’t prolific before the game but he’s a scholarship athlete who’s come into a great program, and you know he’s got the ability to make shots.
“Those threes by Samuels, that’s what good programs do,” he said. “Somebody steps up that you’re not necessarily anticipating right away. Samuels certainly did it for them tonight.”
Eric Paschall, who shot just 3 of 15 from the floor, added 10 points and seven rebounds for the Cats. Nate Pierre-Louis scored 17 points and Alston added 15 for the Owls (7-2, 2-1), who was the last team to beat Villanova in a Big 5 game, exactly six years ago to the day at the same venue.
The Wildcats outrebounded Temple, 22-11, in the second half, and by 36-28 for the game, in breaking a two-game home losing streak.
Villanova made just 2 of its last 11 shots in the first half, and 3 of its first 11 in the second. The Owls, whose largest lead came at 33-26 early in the second half, led by 38-33 with 11:32 to play and maintained their advantage at 47-43 on Rose’s driving basket with 6:40 to play before the Villanova surge.
The Wildcats led by 24-23 at halftime but Temple took control in the second half by scoring the first seven points, five by Rose, to take a 30-24 lead, and extended their advantage to seven, 33-26, on Rose’s layup with 16:08 left in the second half.
The Wildcats scored the next seven points to tie the game but the Owls responded by scoring on their next six possessions, with Pierre-Louis scoring six points during that time, to regain the lead at 45-41 with just under 9 minutes to play.
Both teams struggled to put the ball in the basket in the first half. Villanova held a 24-23 lead by the end of the period despite shooting just 37.5 percent from the field and 4 of 11 from three-point range. The Owls made 40 percent of their field-goal attempts with one three and outrebounded the Wildcats 17-14.