When Villanova plays a local road game, the Wildcats pack up their recent history and take it along. There Sunday inside Temple’s Liacouras Center, 2016 NCAA title-game heroes Kris Jenkins and Phil Booth sat right behind the ‘Nova bench, looking like they were having a good old time. Since it’s the NBA All-Star break, Jalen Brunson and Eric Paschall, more big-timers from the ’18 national championship team, were in town, too.
On the court, Villanova paid proper homage to the history, looking every bit like a team that had learned a thing or two from the guys who had played before them.
If you didn’t know better, you’d swear that Villanova point guard Collin Gillespie -- setting up on the low block, waiting for a teammate to free himself outside past a screen -- was perfecting a Brunson impersonation. If Gillespie was, that act included a spree of early threes and then a flurry of later threes. The first kept Villanova above water early, the later ones removed any doubt about the outcome.
Temple had billed the game as a chance to get a share of the Big 5 title with Villanova since both would be 3-1 if the Owls prevailed here. At halftime, sure enough, Temple was halfway there, up four at the break.
If they were 20 minutes away, they ended up 20 points away. Final: Villanova 76, Temple 56.
Truth is, the final is a closer approximation to where these two programs are right now. Villanova hasn’t lost this season to anyone outside the top 30 of the KenPom.com computer rankings. Temple is ranked 111th. The Owls go 2-2 in the Big 5, with the W’s over St. Joseph’s and La Salle, two teams that basically everybody in the Atlantic 10 is beating. Add in a loss to Penn, the Owls know where they stand.
Aaron McKie is not the type to deny what he sees right in front of him. He’s a first-year head coach, but hardly new to the scene. In the run-up to this game, he had called Villanova “the gold standard of college basketball.”
People like to question the meaning of the Big 5 when Villanova has had its way lately other than last year’s loss at Penn, which gave the Quakers the City Series crown. But Villanova has been pretty good against the rest of the world, too.
That’s what “we all get involved in this game for,’’ McKie said of Wright’s two NCAA titles, to help kids, and reach the highest goals.
He repeated the same phrase.
“For me, he’s the gold standard,’’ McKie said of Wright.
You’d expect some mutual respect, and Wright offered it ahead of the game, saying, “I would just tell him, keep doing what Temple teams have always done. When we came here, we looked at John Chaney. Our word ‘attitude’ -- he used to have it up on a billboard. So I think Aaron knows from the John Chaney years what culture is all about, and the same thing with Fran Dunphy. He’s had two great mentors. Just stick with that, and I think he will.”
Wright could have added, and go get some shooters.
Villanova broke things open just after halftime with a 20-2 run that included three-pointers by four ‘Nova players. While Gillespie was going off for seven threes, four teammates had at least a pair.
Meanwhile, Temple took 16 threes, made two. That’s the Achilles heel that can’t be fixed this season. Temple starters combined for zero three-pointers.
The Owls did all sorts of good things. Quinton Rose again played like a senior, putting up 22 points, holding up his end on the defensive side. Nate Pierre-Louis had 16 points and 11 rebounds, which meant he didn’t hang his head because his defensive assignment on Gillespie wasn’t going so great.
While Temple only had nine turnovers, three came on the first three possessions right after halftime, as Villanova grabbed the lead back before the Owls even got a shot off. For the second straight season, Jermaine Samuels impacted the Villanova-Temple game. His three threes last season, on three attempts, were the biggest shots of the game at the Pavilion.
Sunday, he got the second-half party started, hitting a three off a feed from Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. Robinson-Earl then hit the next one off a feed from Gillespie. Then Gillespie hit one off a Robinson-Earl pass. Then freshman Justin Moore hit a couple.
McKie said it felt like there were all big guards out there for Villanova, when Robinson-Earl, for instance, got going. Nothing too complicated. Didn’t matter that Saddiq Bey had a tough afternoon. Temple didn’t get to pick its poison.
Afterward, asked about McKie, Wright reiterated that he thought the new man in charge on North Broad Street is “a great combination of Fran Dunphy and John Chaney … you can see certain aspects of both of them.”
They’re going to be a really good team, Wright said.
“I don’t want them to be,’’ he added. “But they are.”
The truth is, he should want them to be, in the sense of needing a proper foil locally. That’s not up to Villanova, though. It has established the bar around here and everyone is straining their necks looking up.
What, McKie was asked, does that Villanova culture look like up close?
“I’ve been watching them for a while,’’ McKie said. “They just play the right way. They find the right guy at the right time.”