Villanova coach Jay Wright ran down a list of all the things his team could have done better Saturday night against Virginia Tech – not making the extra pass, getting beat off the dribble, free-throw shooting, execution at the offensive and defensive ends – and then was asked the inevitable question.
After playing for the third time in the last four nights, was fatigue a cause of all the things the third-ranked Wildcats did wrong in an 81-73 upset loss to the Hokies at the Mohegan Sun Arena’s “Bubbleville” in Uncasville, Conn?
“Whether it did or not, I don’t want to take away from what Virginia Tech did because we chose to do this, and it was good for us,” Wright said. “This is a good game for us early in the year. We played three really good teams, and because Virginia Tech did so many things well execution-wise, it exposed us, and that’s how young guys learn. So I look at this as a positive.”
The game between the teams, part of the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off, was arranged early Friday after Temple had to back out of games against each team due to COVID-19 issues.
The Wildcats (2-1) blew a 12-point lead with less than 9 minutes to play and missed the front end of three straight 1-and-1 situations down the stretch. They avoided losing in regulation when Justin Moore hit two free throws with 1.3 seconds to play to tie the game at 64.
But they looked to be out of gas in the extra period as the Hokies (2-0) scored the first five points of overtime.
“They’re really tough, really physical, well-coached,” Wright said. “They were just the better team tonight. We did a lot of little things wrong, but it was because of the little things they did right. A credit to them. They just played better than us. We weren’t great, but they were really good.”
The Wildcats held Tech scoreless for more than five minutes during an 11-0 run that gave them a 49-38 lead, and a three-point basket by Cole Swider extended the margin to 12, 52-40, with 8 minutes, 48 seconds to play.
But the Hokies hit five of six three-pointers in a comeback that gradually whittled down their deficit. The Wildcats helped out by missing the front end of three consecutive one-and-one situations, the last one by Moore with 10 seconds remaining in the second half and ‘Nova clinging to a 62-61 lead.
Keve Aluma answered for Tech with a three-point play – making a free throw he was supposed to miss on purpose – with 1.3 seconds left for a 64-62 lead.
Then as Eric Dixon ran the baseline and prepared to inbound, Moore set a screen and was knocked down by Justyn Mutts. After Moore was initially called for a moving screen, the call was reversed after the officials discussed it, and Moore tied the game with two free throws.
However, the overtime was all Hokies. Mutts, a transfer from Delaware, hit the first five points to put Tech in control. Villanova got as close as two, 71-69, on a three-pointer by Caleb Daniels with 58.4 seconds to play. But Aluma hit another three-point play, and the Hokies clinched the win at the line.
Collin Gillespie led the Wildcats with 25 points, 18 in the first half. Daniels added 17, and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl scored 14. Aluma led the Hokies with 23.