Villanova’s Collin Gillespie made the first two three-point shots he took Sunday, and as far as Temple and its fans at Liacouras Center were concerned, he didn’t miss again the rest of the afternoon.
That’s not quite correct, but Gillespie knocked down a career-high seven threes and scored a season-high 29 points before a sellout crowd to lead the 15th-ranked Wildcats to a 76-56 victory over the Owls, giving Villanova the Big 5 championship.
After trailing 30-26 at the half, the Cats (19-6, 4-0 Big 5) needed a big second half to overcome Temple (13-12, 2-2). Their spark was three straight Temple turnovers at the start of the period, leading to three-point baskets by Jermaine Samuels, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Gillespie, and a 9-0 spurt before the Owls even got up a shot.
The run got to 20-2 in the first 5 minutes, 44 seconds of the half, fueled by 6-of-8 shooting on three-pointers, and gave ‘Nova a 46-32 lead.
Quinton Rose and Nate Pierre-Louis scored all the points in a 10-3 run that enabled the Owls to cut the gap to seven, but Gillespie hit a jumper in the lane, Samuels converted a conventional three-point play and Robinson-Earl put in a reverse layup to grow the margin to 13, 56-43, with 7:33 left.
After a Temple basket, Gillespie sank three straight three-point tries to boost the margin to 18, 65-47, with 4:19 to play, and the advantage would get as high as 22.
The Wildcats finished 13-for-21 (61.9%) on three-pointers in the second half and scored 50 points, their most in a second half this season. Their 17 threes for the game were one short of their season-high of 18 set in November against Middle Tennessee, and Gillespie’s seven were a career-best.
The Owls made just two threes in 16 tries, and the 45-point differential on points scored from the arc was the highest for Villanova this season, more than negating Temple’s 32-16 advantage in the paint.
Samuels finished with 13 points and seven rebounds for the Wildcats. Robinson-Earl and Justin Moore, the Cats’ two freshman starters, survived early foul trouble to combine for five threes and 19 points.
Rose led the Owls with 22 points and Pierre-Louis added 16 plus 11 rebounds.
Villanova coach Jay Wright on his team’s three-point philosophy: “We’re always searching for threes, and then certain teams take that away and it does open up other things. That’s one of the things we haven’t been great at this year, being a young team, is just recognizing that all the time. I thought we did a really good job tonight, we call it mixing up, reading what they’re taking away. That takes time. We’re getting better at that.”
Temple coach Aaron McKie, responding to Pierre-Louis taking “full responsibility” for Gillespie’s output: “I have no issues with Nate and what he did. Gillespie was just great. Sometimes when you’re playing guys like that, you’re not going to have any answers. Gillespie, he trumped us this afternoon. He just made some tough shots.”
Villanova won its sixth Big 5 championship in the last seven years (Penn won it last year) and its 27th overall, tying it with Temple for the most City Series titles. As he does with any title – City, Big East regular season or Big East Tournament – Wright put it away to look back on it once the season is over. “It’s great. At the end of the year, we’ll look back and be very proud,” he said.
The Owls had troubles again getting scoring from players not named Rose or Pierre-Louis. The rest of the team went 7-for-29 Sunday and scored 18 points, and McKie continues to look for consistency. “It’s really been our Achilles heel,” he said.
Robinson-Earl, the 6-foot-9 center who sat out more than 13 ½ minutes of the first half with two early fouls, showed how valuable he is when he’s able to stretch the defense. After missing all seven three-point tries in his previous four games, the freshman drained two of three Sunday.