WILDCATS THRASH THE FRIARS

There can be no argument as to the best team in the Big East for the 2014-2015 basketball season. Any lingering slivers of doubt were resoundingly put to rest on Tuesday evening at the Pavilion as the Villanova Wildcats thrashed Providence College by a deflating 89-61 score.

What can be said about these Wildcats? They are a whole ‘nother animal. Balanced, deep, athletic and loaded with players who can stick a dagger in teams at a moment’s notice. At 6th in the country, they may be underrated. Certainly, they are a horrible matchup for Providence.

Prior to the game, the Friars (now 19-9, 9-6) announced that senior center Carson Desrosiers would be out due to a knee injury suffered in the previous game against DePaul. That absence would force Ben Bentil to center and PC into a zone defense. Because of bad matchups in speed and strength on the wings and in the backcourt, Providence was probably going to have to play a majority of zone anyway, but Desrosiers being out forced Ed Cooley’s hand as he needed to attempt to protect his bigs against foul trouble. And without a rim protector, overplaying on the perimeter and funneling drivers inside was a losing proposition.

Senior Night on the road is never an easy challenge and PC responded with jittery play right from the get-go. During the game’s first four minutes, Providence had 7 possessions and committed five turnovers, two by Kris Dunn, and missed two shots, a layup by Dunn and a jumper by Jalen Lindsey, allowing Nova a 9-0 lead. Kyron Cartwright ended the drought but the lead spiked at 16-4 after Darrun Hilliard’s first three pointer.

Meanwhile, Providence was struggling to breathe and run any semblance of offense. Hilliard was smothering LaDonate Henton and Henton would get just two shot attempts in the first half. Dunn was getting swarmed by a pack of Wildcat defenders. The Villanova lead would peak at 28-13 after a Josh Hart three with six minutes to play and it was at this point that PC flashed it’s only life of the night.

PC scored the final 7 points of the half on an open Bentil corner three, a Dunn layup and a Tyler Harris layup after a Jayvaughn Pinkston miss. Despite everything, heading into the locker room at 34-25, the game still seemed manageable. When Henton buried a three to open the second half and Junior Lomomba tipped in a Harris miss, the score was 38-32 and hope was flickering on the PC sideline. But that hope was extinguished by a Villanova team that suddenly appeared as if they were desperately playing for a championship.

It started innocently enough. Henton missed a long three and Bentil fouled Hilliard, who sank two free throws. Dunn dribbled to the sideline and threw the ball away against a double team and Hilliard buried a dagger three. Now the Cats were up double figures, 43-32, and the run was just starting. By the time the 25-6 run ended, with just over ten minutes to play, Villanova had a back-breaking 63-38 and Hilliard had hit three three-pointers, Ryan Arcidiacono one. That effectively turned the final ten minutes into extended garbage time.

TURNOVER CITY: In today’s game of college basketball, where slower pace and valuing possessions is as important as it’s ever been, turnovers can absolutely kill a team’s chances of winning or even of coming back from a deficit. Five turnovers in the game’s first five minutes was impossible to overcome against a quality team and PC piled up 15 for the game, most at inopportune times. Dunn had 6 of his own, against 7 assists, and has run his season total to 116 in 28 games, 4.14 per game. He has exactly 200 assists.

STAT LINE: Henton and Dunn both struggled against Villanova’s superior depth. Henton had just 12 points and 4 rebounds and was only able to get up 8 shots against Nova’s stifling defense and superior athleticism. Meanwhile, Dunn had just 4 points, on 2-10 shooting and just one steal in what was easily his worst performance of the Big East season. One bright spot was the play of Harris, who scored 18 points on 8-11 shooting and Cartwright chipped in 12 points and 3 assists. On the other side, Hilliard scored 16 of his 24 points in the second half, Arcidiacono had 13 points, 4 assists and no turnovers and Pinkston played one of his better games, with 16 points and 8 boards.

FOUL NUMBERS: For the second straight game against Villanova, PC was overwhelmed by the Cats at the foul line. However, the disparity in free throws was due more to style of play and physical superiority than any conspiracy by the referees. And when PC got to the free throw line, they compounded their troubles by not shooting well. The Friars were just 6-12 while Villanova was a torrid 26-31, including 6-6 by Hilliard and 8-9 by Kris Jenkins.

WE’RE ON TO Marquette: This is a game best forgotten. The Friars need to get Desrosiers healthy and focus on their upcoming game against Marquette, on Sunday at 3:30 p.m.

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