Villanova finally had the opening it had been waiting for in Saturday’s Big East showdown against Seton Hall.
Myles Powell and his 22-point scoring average had gone to the bench with 9 minutes, 31 seconds remaining after he picked up his fourth foul with the 12th-ranked Pirates holding a 46-42 advantage. The Wells Fargo sellout crowd of 20,706 was sensing a shift in momentum – and an imminent lead change.
But it didn’t happen. Seton Hall still had a four-point lead when Powell returned with 4:54 to play. The No. 10 Cats could not mount a comeback and saw their 17-game home winning streak against the Pirates come to an end, losing 70-64 for their third straight defeat.
The Wildcats (17-6, 7-4 Big East) went on a 21-7 run in the final 9:06 of the first half to take a 31-27 lead, and they were up 34-33 on Saddiq Bey’s three-point basket with 16 minutes to play. That, however, would be their last lead.
Five of the first seven second-half field goals for the Pirates (18-5, 10-1) were from three-point range, two by Powell before he went to the bench. Junior forward Sandro Mamukelashvili took over the scoring during his absence, plus a third-chance followup basket after he returned that boosted the lead to 57-51 with 4:34 remaining.
Villanova made one more push with Bey’s three-ball closing the Cats to within 61-58 with 1:39 to play. But Bey then could not connect on a layup – one of five missed by ‘Nova in the last 2:24 – and the Pirates put the game away with Quincy McKnight and Shavar Reynolds combining to make eight free throws .
The Pirates (18-5, 10-1) improved to 6-0 in Big East road games.
Bey led the Wildcats with 22 points. Collin Gillespie added 12 but shot 4 of 14 and missed all five of his three-point tries, the first game this season he has gone without a basket from deep.
Powell scored 19 points, connecting on 7 of 16 shots overall and 3 of 9 from three-point range, with Mamukelashvili adding 17. McKnight finished with 14.
Villanova came out in the second half and tried to draw the third foul on 7-foot-2 center Romaro Gill. But Gill thwarted that plan by blocking three shots on the Cats’ scoreless first seven possessions.
The Cats got off to slow starts in each half – 4 of 16 in the first, 5 of 16 in the second – and finished at 36.1%. They went 9 of 27 from three and were outrebounded, 43-32, with Jeremiah Robinson-Earl pulling down 14, tying his career high.
The Pirates, who went into the game shooting 32.5% from three, were 9 of 21 for 42.9% Saturday.
Villanova coach Jay Wright, on Seton Hall’s success while Powell sat with foul trouble: “It’s experience and depth. That’s what makes a really good team. You’ve got a player like Powell, the other guys are good enough to carry the team. They just know that Powell is so good, they’re acquiescing to him. But they know at any time, if he’s not there, they’re good enough to take over.”
Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard, on snapping a 26-year-old road losing streak against ‘Nova: “Hey, if we had lost, I’d say, ‘All right, we’ve got cheesesteaks on the bus.' It would have been 27 years. It’s more about this team and living in the present. It’s more important about where we are, where we are in the standings, where we are in the seeding. I love their work ethic. This is a focused group.”
This is a time of concern for the Wildcats. Their three-game losing streak includes two defeats at home. After Wednesday’s game at Finneran Pavilion against Marquette, they will play five of their last seven regular-season games on the road, including a rematch with Seton Hall on March 4 at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
The Villanova defense played better than it had in losses to Creighton and Butler, but it still allowed 70 points to the Pirates. The Cats are now 4-6 when allowing 70 or more points, compared to 13-0 when holding opponents below 70.
Seton Hall scored 26 points in the paint Saturday, increasing the Wildcats’ total allowed in that area the last three games to 102, or 34 per game.