Villanova started the game with ball pressure and a deliberate effort to attack the basket that paid immediate dividends and an early lead. While the Friars appeared initially uncomfortable running offense under the pressure, they nonetheless converted shots with two key 3-point baskets by Junior Lomomba and Rodney Bullock to stay within 2 points at the 15 minute mark.
Providence really wanted to take away the three point shot from Villanova, and they managed to accomplish that throughout the first half and for much of the game. The Wildcats made a lot of layups, but a deliberate half court pace kept the game close while Providence was searching for some sort rhythm on offense besides launching an array of three point attempts.
The Providence supporting cast really did a nice job keeping the Friars afloat for most of the first half with Drew Edwards and Ryan Fazekas chipping in off the bench, but by the 3 minute point with Dunn and Bentil 0-7 from the field, Villanova opened up what was eventually a 7-point lead. Dunn and Bentil missed the front end of 2 1-1 opportunities during the final 3 minutes of the half and then Ed Cooley reinserted Rodney Bullock who had sat quite a while saddled with 2 fouls. Bullock stepped up and he quickly scored 5 points to pull the Friars within 4 in the final minute. A scramble situation with the clock running down resulted in a 3-point play for Villanova, followed by Ben Bentil’s first field goal inside as the time expired with the Friars down 5. Rodney Bullock led the Friars with eight points in the first half while Ryan Arcidiacono and Kris Jenkins combined for 17 points for Villanova.
The second half started out horribly for Providence with 2 quick touch fouls on the Friars followed by two straight 3’s by Kris Jenkins, extending the Villanova lead to 11. Providence cut the lead to 7 with 16 minutes to go, but Ben Bentil picked up a critical fourth foul from the referees who had been calling things very tight all night.
With Bentil on the bench, Villanova went for the kill and was up 50-36 with 11:47 to play. It didn’t help matters that Providence was shooting 50% from the free throw line either. (FT’s would later improve to 69% for the game)
Shortly after being reinserted in the game, Ben Bentil fouled out with 9:40 left in the game. Uncharacteristic fouls and the general ineffectiveness of Ben Bentil all night really made the job pretty easy for Villanova, as Providence needs their big man to be productive to win just about any game against a good team.
Was Bentil’s ankle the issue? “No”, said Cooley. “He just didn’t have a good game today. The highs and lows of life… Yesterday he looked like Superman. Today kryptonite got him.”
Still, Providence somehow rallied after Bentil’s exit and cut the Villanova lead to 5 with 7:00 minutes left after making some key foul shots, and there was still hope for the Friar victory. The run continued after a violent rejection of a Ryan Arcidiacono shot inside by Bullock. Two huge Jalen Lindsey three pointers later, the Friars incredibly cut the lead to only 2 with 6:58 to play.
But Villanova had an answer each time the Friars made a run. Kris Jenkins was really the player of the game for Villanova, making 9-14 shots and 21 points. Arcidiacono also had a very solid and nearly turnover free game. (15 points)
While it would continue to be mostly a two-possession game until the final minute, Providence was basically playing with no center down the stretch, and Villanova eventually exploited that, inserting Ochefu who kept getting fed lobs inside. It frankly took a little air out of what could have otherwise been a dramatic finish. It’s a shame, really since all the role players on Providence really turned in a gutsy performance, but particularly stepping up were Rodney Bullock (18 pts, Kyron Cartwright 14 pts, and Drew Edwards (7 pts).
Ed Cooley: “I’m really proud of our group. I thought we played really, really, hard and played with a purpose. We had opportunities. I think the difference between the two teams today was veteran composure, especially down the stretch. I thought we made a lot critical mistakes that they capitalized on with some of our young guys on the floor.”
Kris Dunn was blanketed with Bentil off the court most of the game, and wasn’t particularly sharp shooting the ball regardless, finishing with 9 points, 6 assists, and 2 rebounds. Villanova was limited to 7 threes, but still shot 52% for the game.
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Providence likely showed well enough versus Villanova to garner a 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament, depending on what happens elsewhere around the nation. However, at worst I expect the Friars to be no worse than an 8 seed. For now, the Friars can rest up and prepare to Dance after a good season and a very respectable showing at the Garden.