BOSTON, Mass., – Staring at a six point deficit midway through the second half, the No. 1 seed Villanova Wildcats reeled off a 36-18 run over the final 11 minutes to down No. 5 seed West Virginia 90-78 in an NCAA Tournament East Regional Semifinal at TD Garden Friday night.
Junior Jalen Brunson (27 points, four assists) and redshirt freshman Omari Spellman (18 points, eight rebounds) were two of the primary catalysts as the Wildcats advanced to Sunday’s Elite Eight against the winner of Purdue vs. Texas Tech in the night’s second game.
“We have so much respect for West Virginia,” stated Villanova head coach Jay Wright. “There’s no way to simulate their toughness and physicality in practice. You have to get into the game and adjust.
“To win this kind of game against this kind of opponent, it takes toughness. I thought our guys did a great job of battling and not getting down if we turned it over. Jalen and Omari were terrific but a lot of guys contributed. Phil Booth had six defensive rebounds and Donte DiVincenzo had five. In a game like this, those were huge.”
The Wildcats committed 16 turnovers but compensated for it defensively, limiting the Mountaineers (26-11) to 27-of-70 shooting on the night (.386), including 7-of-28 from beyond the 3-point arc (.250).
The pace over the first eight minutes was fast and furious. The Wildcats converted their first six field goal attempts but the Mountaineers were nearly as productive. Villanova held a 22-20 lead midway through the period while connecting on 10-of-14 of its attempts from the floor (.714). But both Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo were assessed two fouls each in that stretch.
A Villanova turnover led to a Sagaba Konate dunk at the 10:10 mark of the period and the game was deadlocked at 22.
Some strong work by Brunson helped spark a 6-0 run but West Virginia used its press to create trouble for the Wildcats. The Mountaineers scored eight straight points at to regain the lead at 33-30 with 4:30 to play in the first period. Along the way DiVincenzo picked up his third foul.
With 3:30 to play in the first half, Villanova trailed 35-33 and had committed nine turnovers – one shy of its season average of 10.4 per game.
But the Wildcats converted 4-of-5 field goals near the end of the period, including a huge 3-pointer by Paschall off a nice feed from Collin Gillespie to regain the advantage. They held a 44-42 lead at halftime.
Brunson led VU with 16 points in the period, though he picked up his second foul with 1:27 left in the first half.
A Paschall 3-pointer on the opening possession of the second half pushed the Wildcats edge to 47-42. But West Virginia came up with a 6-0 run to re-take the lead at 48-47 with 16:07 to play in the second half. A fadeaway jumper by Jevon Carter that fell just before the shot clock expired gave the Mountaineers a 50-47 lead at the 15:24 mark of the period.
Villanova, meanwhile, missed seven straight field goals and fell behind 52-47 before an Omari Spellman 3-pointer from the corner ended the dry spell. Two Spellman free throws knotted the contest again, this time at 52, with 13:02 on the second half clock.
But West Virginia’s defense continued to slow VU. The Mountaineers outscored the Wildcats 8-2 to take their largest lead of the contest, 60-54 with 11:04 to play in the second half. Through nearly nine minutes of play in the period, Villanova was just 2-of-11 from the floor (.182).
“Our mindset was to continue to play Villanova Basketball,” stated Brunson of falling behind.
The Wildcats charged back with an 11-0 burst that was punctuated by a Spellman blocked shot at one end and dunk at the other. It gave VU a 65-60 lead with just under nine minutes to play in the second half.
Villanova finished the evening off in style, pulling away to the 12-point win.
“You just know that in this tournament you’re going to get a game like this that isn’t always pretty,” Wright noted. “For us to come through this is big for this group.”
The 2017-18 Villanova Men’s Basketball season is presented by KeyBank.