Villanova came out in a zone defense that was methodically picked apart by the Scarlet offense as the Knights jumped out to an early 16-2 lead during the first five minutes of the game. The entire team was playing with passion and purpose as they continually pressured the Cats into missed shots and turnovers. Villanova came to life after a few quick timeouts and cut the lead to seven with 13:46 remaining in the half. At the 10:50 mark Earl Pettis threw up an air ball that was quickly brought back down the court and finished off by a huge three point shot by Corey Stokes cutting the lead to four. But this was a different Rutgers team. They were confident, they played hard. Rutgers pushed their lead back to nine points and managed to maintain that margin for about five minutes, when with 3:33 left in the half, Villanova began to play with a sense of urgency, hitting some big threes. By the 2:22 mark the Rutgers lead had been cut to two points at 30-28. Were we about to witness a mental or physical lapse by the Scarlet Knights?? Not this team, not tonight. Rutgers had survived this crucial stretch and wasnt finished. A resounding slam dunk by the big H was followed with a basket by Farmer. As time was running low Villanova managed a free throw, but it was quickly answered with a 2 and 1 by Mike Coburn and the Rutgers lead was back to eight points. Villanova struck back with a quick 3 point bomb, but the Knights refused to be denied as Anthony Farmer hit an enormous three pointer of his own at the buzzer to end the half. Rutgers had built a 40-32 half time advantage.
The crowd began to buzz. The 1,500 or so Villanova faithful that made the trip up the turnpike were unusually quiet, but acted confident, as they certainly felt their #18 club would make a resounding comeback. It wasnt to be.
Villanova opened the second half with a spurt, cutting the Scarlet lead to four points, but a wisely used time out by Coach Hill brought the Scarlet back to the court absolutely on fire. Rutgers quickly built their lead back to nine points. With 15:28 remaining in the game, Rutgers had the lead at 47-39. The Rutgers 6th man began to get loud. Chants of R-U began to rattle the rafters. What followed was a tremendous defensive display of heart, hustle and desire as Rutgers built their lead to 56-39, denying the Wildcats any points for an incredible 8 minute stretch. By the 4:27 mark, the Scarlet lead had ballooned to 19 points with the score standing at 64-45. The Rutgers players were excited, they were having fun, they were putting on an outstanding display. Villanova fans began to trickle out of the arena.
At the 3:54 mark, Villanova once again began to play with an incredible sense of urgency and reserve guard Malcolm Grant started hitting numerous three pointers. The Cats managed to whittle away and cut the lead to as close as seven points. Rutgers responded with a defensive lineup of Farmer, Coburn, Chandler, and Inman with either Griffin or Pettis as the fifth man. Coach Hill used his quickest and most athletic players not to only slow down the sudden Villanova rush, but to rebuild their lead to the 9-12 point range. The balance of the Villanova fans headed for the turnstyles. The Villanova beat writers were stunned. They had just witnessed a defensive gem as the upstart Scarlet Knights bounced into the locker room with a hard fought, well earned 80-68 victory. This team had just earned a whole lot of respect.
All eight Rutgers players that hit the court were major contributors. Captain Byron Joynes asserted his strength under the boards and continually positioned himself well on defense. The big H came through with 7 big rebounds and 3 blocked shots. JR Inman and Jaron Griffin combined for 17 points, 12 rebounds, a blocked shot and a steal. Earl Pettis played well in relief using his role to play hard defense and using his quickness to the lane to deny drives to the Villanova guards. The three guards were simply outstanding. Defensively, they came up with 6 steals, continually frustrated the Wildcat guards with cat quick defense, and certainly on offense, where they combined for a fabulous 60 points. What a game!
SPECIAL SIDE FEATURE:
With 50 seconds remaining in the first half, the big H broke the string on his basketball shorts which needed replacement. Once a new set of shorts had been retrieved from the locker room, Hamady, the confident young man that he is, delighted the Scarlet faithful by changing on the corner of the court near the Rutgers bench. Thankfully the uniform designer was wise enough to create very l-o-n-g game shirts.
SPECIAL NEWS RELEASE:
Rutgers junior guard Courtney Nelson has been ruled academically ineligible and will not compete for the remainder of the 2007-08 season.
It is very disappointing, both for the team and for Courtney, said Hill. We look forward to Courtney meeting this challenge, so that he can return in good standing for his senior season. His loss will affect our depth at the guard position.