It might have been only a sprained right pinky finger, but it hurt enough for Villanova forward Jermaine Samuels to miss practice leading up to the game Sunday at Texas and leave him as a questionable participant in Austin.
But Samuels was ready at tipoff with a splint on his finger and ignored the pain. He went on to grab 12 rebounds, help Jeremiah Robinson-Earl battle the Longhorns’ big men on defense, and score a key basket in the final minute to lead the No. 12 Wildcats to a 68-64 win over Texas at the Frank Erwin Center before a crowd (!) of 2,506.
The Cats (4-1) received 19 points apiece from Robinson-Earl, who pulled down eight rebounds, and Justin Moore, and got four clutch free throws in the final 15 seconds from Collin Gillespie, his only points of the second half, to capture the Big 12-Big East Battle matchup.
Samuels, a 6-foot-7 senior, had four of Villanova’s eight offensive rebounds and handed out three assists in 32 minutes, 22 seconds. He and the 6-9 Robinson-Earl had their hands full with 6-9 Greg Brown, 6-10 Jericho Sims, and 6-11 Kai Jones but outrebounded them, 20-14.
“We were just trying to play as physical as possible without fouling,” Samuels said, “relying on each other for defensive stops, communicating, everything we needed to do and that we worked on in practice leading up to this game. There was no, ‘He’s got him’ or ‘You take care of him.’ We were going to play them together as a team.”
Coach Jay Wright said that with Robinson-Earl matched with Sims, Samuels did a good job under the boards.
“A couple of his offensive rebounds were huge,” Wright said. “But for him being able to battle in there … he had to go against some great athletes to rebound. To have a sprained finger and a splint on it and come up with 12 rebounds is courageous and I’m really proud of him.”
The Wildcats overcame a rough patch in the first half after Gillespie went to the bench with his second personal foul at the 10:41 mark. While he sat, Villanova scored one basket in eight possessions and committed four turnovers to trail by seven. So Gillespie returned with 6:28 left to calm things down and stayed foul-free, and the Cats led, 32-30, at the break.
The Wildcats took their biggest lead at 46-38 on Robinson-Earl’s conventional three-point play, and again at 51-43 on a driving layup by Moore. But they managed just six points in the next 9:19 and the Longhorns tied the game at 57 on Courtney Ramey’s three-point basket with 2:33 remaining.
The visitors then scored five straight points in 20 seconds to go up for good. Cole Swider drained a three-pointer and Gillespie’s steal set up a dunk by Robinson-Earl at the 1:40 mark. Samuels answered another Ramey three-ball with a drive to the hoop from the left wing with 30 seconds remaining.
Gillespie then put the game away with four free throws, and the Wildcats had their first true road win of the season.
Wright credited his seniors.
“Jermaine and Collin were outstanding,” he said. “Collin hit free throws down the stretch and Jermaine came up with big-time defensive rebounds. Jermaine also made some big-time drives at the end of the shot clock. You know we always rely on our seniors and I thought those two were outstanding.”
As for the finger, Samuels said, “I wasn’t even thinking about it, to be honest. You could feel it here and there on dead balls, but my mind was focused on whatever the next play was.”