WASHINGTON – The free-throw shooting in the final minute was uncharacteristic. The 12 three-point baskets allowed was not indicative of how the team defended the arc for much of the season.
But in the end, no matter how nervous the team made its fans watching at home, Villanova had a significant 79-77 victory Wednesday over Seton Hall and kept alive its chance for a share of what would be its sixth Big East regular-season championship in seven years.
The Wildcats (23-7, 12-5 Big East) can achieve that with a victory Saturday against Georgetown (15-15, 5-12) at Capital One Arena, and a win later in the afternoon by Creighton against visiting Seton Hall. A Pirates win gives them the outright championship, making the Cats the No. 2 seed with a victory.
If you can look past the late free-throw shooting woes, where the Cats made just 4 of 11 attempts from the line in the final 1 minute, 3 seconds, you saw a team that overcame its bricks with strong defense and figured out how to keep the Pirates from celebrating in their home arena.
With one game left before next week’s Big East Tournament, where Villanova will try to make it four championships in a row at Madison Square Garden, followed by the NCAA Tournament, a result like Wednesday’s came around at a good time.
“Those types of experiences for a young team become part of your psyche,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said Friday. “You don’t have those with all the new guys, even the sophomores who were on the bench that really didn’t play in those other games, even though they played a little they were a part of it. So it becomes part of our team’s psyche that’s really valuable.”
Junior forward Jermaine Samuels, who went for 19 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists in the win, said playing difficult opponents in the Big East has been beneficial.
“Definitely it will help,” he said. “All the games are going to be very competitive like that and sticking to what we do is most important to the end. Villanova basketball is what we preach and we’ve got to keep playing tough and keep believing in each other.”
The Hoyas, who lost their first meeting to Villanova in January, 80-66, at the Wells Fargo Center behind eight three-point baskets and 33 points from Saddiq Bey, have been shorthanded two injured starters for much of the second half of the conference season.
Center Omer Yurtseven, who is averaging a double-double (15.8 points, 10.0 rebounds per game), has played in just one game since Feb. 8 with an ankle injury and sat out each of the last three. Guard Mac McClung, the team’s No. 2 scorer, has sat out his last six games with a foot injury.
The injuries have left coach Patrick Ewing playing with mostly a six-man rotation, but Wright is preparing as if Yurtseven and McClung might see action.
“They’re a really hungry team,” he said. “They’re really explosive offensively. Then you don’t know if Yurtseven is going to play, you don’t know if McClung is going to play, because they’ve been popping in there once in a while, so we’ve got to be prepared for everybody. It’s not an easy preparation game.”