It might not be polite to call the Villanova-St. Joseph’s game the “Holy War” anymore, but the teams played as spirited a game Saturday as any seen in the old days when these duels were played at the Palestra.
The 23rd-ranked Wildcats led by 17 late in the first half and by 16 at the break, but the Hawks whittled down the margin to where it became a one-possession game with just over 4 minutes to play. But the visitors dug in on defense in the closing stages and captured a 78-66 victory before a deafening crowd at Hagan Arena.
The Wildcats (7-2, 3-0 Big 5), playing their third City Series game in six days, defeated the Hawks (2-8, 0-1) for the seventh consecutive time.
The Hawks’ comeback was led by Ryan Daly, who scored 22 of his game-high 32 points in the second half, driving repeatedly for baskets and drawing fouls. His two free throws with 4:08 left to play made it a three-point game at 65-62.
But St. Joseph’s scored just two baskets – both by Daly – in seven attempts the rest of the way and the Wildcats drew away with Saddiq Bey and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl accounting for 11 of their last 13 points.
Villanova had another big game scoring in the paint. Three days after scoring 48 inside points against Penn, the Wildcats put up 46 against the Hawks. Bey had 22 points and 9 rebounds and Justin Moore had some nice finishes at the hoop scoring 14 off the bench.
Collin Gillespie added 20 points for the Cats but went to the bench with his fourth foul at the 6:17 mark and played just the final 43.6 seconds. Gillespie and Bey combined for 25 points in a first half that ended with ‘Nova leading 41-25 and getting only four players into the scoring column.
The Hawks did not have a double-figure scorer other than Daly. Cameron Brown made two of their five three-pointers but the rest of the team went 3 of 20. The Wildcats were just 4 of 17 for the game from beyond the arc.
“If in the first half you’re playing a national champ program and you go 0-for-11 from three, you won’t be winning,” said St. Joe’s coach Billy Lange, a former Villanova assistant. “It’s just that simple. So if you come out in the second half and you go 5-for-13 and you can play some decent defense, you’ve got a shot. But it’s not much more complicated than that.”
“I like threes better but we’re playing against teams that know us,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “Billy knows everything we do. A lot of the things we do, Billy put in. So he knows how to take away our threes and we know he’s going to do it. He did a great job of it, as did Penn, as did La Salle. But I still like getting the threes, to be honest with you.”
It was a rough week for Villanova with 3-point shooting against three Big 5 opponents. The Wildcats, who started the week averaging nearly 30 attempts from deep per game, had 16 against La Salle, 10 against Penn and 17 against St. Joe’s, making only 14, or 32.6%. Could this be the template used against them when Big East play starts?
The Hawks and Lange like the 3-point shot, and even though they missed their first 12 attempts Saturday, they climbed back into the game with threes. But after going 5 of 24, they didn’t shoot enough, their coach said. “We’re about 15 short of the number I’d like to at least attempt … close to that 35-40 range,” Lange said. “But 'Nova took that away.”