PITTSBURGH – The Villanova Wildcats were not showing any detectable letup in Friday’s NCAA first round inside PPG Paints Arena, not toward the Delaware Blue Hens, not even toward their own coaches.
Outcome already decisively decided, Villanova assistant coach Dwayne Anderson was helped off the court, his bloodied face in a towel, after taking what Anderson later described as “an old-school Big East elbow” to his nose from ‘Nova forward Jermaine Samuels as Samuels saved a ball from going out of bounds.
By that time, fatigue had replaced Delaware’s upset dreams, a massive ‘Nova three-point shooting advantage decisively impacting the whole thing. In a universe where a little school from Jersey City can knock off vaunted Kentucky, it hadn’t seemed so outrageous to think the Blue Hens could parlay a quick early advantage into a lesser March Madness surprise.
Except the No. 2 seed in this game played like it, taking No. 15 Delaware, 80-60, advancing to face Ohio State Sunday in the second round after the Buckeyes shut off Loyola.
The Blue Hens, still looking for their first-ever NCAA tournament victory, will mark 2021-22 with a Colonial Athletic Association title, finishing with a 22-13 record, while Villanova improved to 27-7.
Justin Moore led five Villanova double-digit scores with 21 points as the Wildcats hit for 13 three-pointers, one more than Delaware had given up in the entire CAA tournament. The Wildcats made 13 of 28 threes, maybe using Delaware’s own defensive exuberance against the Blue Hens, with four threes from Collin Gillespie and three from Moore and Caleb Daniels, while Delaware made just 3 of 20. There was no working way around that disparity.
“We were reading the ball-screen coverage and if they were coming to help, who was helping,” Moore said later. “Once we figured that out, we were able to figure out when we could take our open shots, make that extra pass, and find the bigs posting up.”
A late first-half Villanova spree, dominating both ends of the court, had pushed the Wildcats out to a 35-25 halftime lead. A little intermission break didn’t change the trends.
Samuels made all sorts of plays, including a signature block, and a career-high 7 offensive rebounds, plus 15 points. But the play that will stay with him … taking out his own coach.
“I knew the ball was going out of bounds and I was trying to jump out of his way,’’ Samuels said of his late-game encounter with Anderson, a former Villanova star himself, “and he was trying to catch me, and I guess he moved his head towards my elbow.”
Samuels tried to tuck in …
“Just shows how much he loves us by trying to catch me,” Samuels said.
What was not a consideration … up 19, maybe let this one go?
“That’s not what we do here at Villanova,’’ Samuels said. “We’re going to play a full 40.”
“Tell you what, Dwayne Anderson would have gotten really mad at Jermaine if he didn’t go after that loose ball,” said Villanova head coach Jay Wright. “That is why he went after it. I’d also like to say Dwayne Anderson has played for us and got hurt worse than that and never even came out of a game. Now he’s a coach and leaves the bench when he gets hit like that. But he got it pretty good. We stopped and saw him. He got it good across the nose.”
Rotation a little short
It didn’t impact this game but Villanova freshman reserve Jordan Longino sat out with a left knee injury suffered Wednesday in practice and is listed as day-to-day, although Wright made it clear he didn’t expect Longino to play Sunday, where his athleticism would be useful against Ohio State.
A late first-half cold stretch
That stretch came at a tough time for the Blue Hens, making one of their last ten shots in the first half. What made it especially tough? Villanova made six of its last six shots. That rhythm, giving Villanova a 35-25 halftime margin, was a 8-0 run at the end, and 15-2 over the last 5 ½ minutes.
Delaware didn’t jump out to an early lead by draining three-pointers. The Blue Hens understood they weren’t giving away any quickness to Villanova so driving on guards was an effective early plan, and the lead grew to 15-8 as the Wildcats took their time heating up from outside.
Old-fashioned three-point plays by Slater and Dixon sandwiching a second-chance three-pointer by Gillespie drew ‘Nova closer. Moore got inside and threw it out to Daniels in the right corner. His three-pointer gave Villanova its first lead, 20-19, with 7:41 left in the half. In this tournament, the rim starts to get smaller if the underdogs can maintain a lead. That didn’t happen here. Eventually, the hoop must have looked as wide as a soccer net for Villanova.
This tournament annually provides surprises like the one No. 15 seed St. Peter’s delivered Thursday, taking out another No. 2, Kentucky. Did Wright address that situation with his team? He did not, he said.
“But we all watched it,” Wright said. “I don’t think I had to say it to anybody.”