Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
For St. Joseph’s to win the 70th edition of the Holy War, it was going to be on the shoulders of its starting backcourt.
For Villanova to come away with the win on its home court, the Wildcats would need a complete team effort to beat the A-10 preseason favorites.
James Bell completed that group effort, hitting a 3-pointer with 25.9 seconds remaining to give Villanova a 65-61 win over Saint Joseph’s in a game that’s sure to go down as one of the more entertaining affairs in recent Holy War history.
“I think this is the third time (Bell’s) done that this year,” Jay Wright said about the 6-foot-6 junior wing’s clutch shooting; Bell also hit key 3-pointers late in Villanova’s wins over Purdue and Marshall earlier this season. “The kid’s got guts, man, he really does.”
Bell and JayVaughn Pinkston each had 12 points to pace Villanova, which got six or more points from six members of its rotation. Darrun Hilliard and Achraf Yacoubou had nine points each, Maurice Sutton had eight and Ryan Arcidiacono and Mouphtaou Yarou contributed six apiece.
The apparent dagger came in the form of a 3-pointer from Langston Galloway with just over two minutes to play that put the Hawks (5-3, 0-1 Big 5) up 61-56 after a controversial call in which SJU appeared to turn the ball over on a shot-clock violation. Instead, the refs ruled that Villanova (6-4, 2-2) had briefly gained possession, resetting the clock and leading to Galloway’s big shot.
Daniel Ochefu’s layup with just over a minute to play brought Villanova within a point at 61-60, forcing SJU coach Phil Martelli to call timeout with 55.9 seconds remaining. Halil Kanacevic missed a pair of free-throws with 45 seconds left, leading to another timeout, this one by Wright.
Bell did the rest, hitting the 3-pointer from the left corner off a feed from Arcidiacono to give Villanova the final lead change in a game that featured 15 of them.
Saint Joseph’s never got a final shot off. A tie-up in the far corner led to a Hawk inbound play with 3.3 seconds remaining, and Kanacevic’s attempt at throwing the ball off a Wildcat only resulted in it caroming off his own body, sending the home crowd into a delirium. Fittingly, it was Bell who hit two free-throws for the final margin.
“Saint Joe’s, you’ve got to give them a lot of credit in this environment to just hang and hang, and just battle,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “Sometimes what makes you good is playing against a great opponent; you learn from a great opponent, and I just thought they had a lot of guts…it was a very good win for us.”
Kanacevic did his best to fuel the fire in the rivalry, giving the Villanova student section what appeared to be a one-finger salute after hitting a 3-pointer to put the Hawks up 50-47 with just under 10 minutes to play. He might have fired up the wrong team–Villanova scored the next six points of the game–but Saint Joseph’s would recover.
“That seemed to be the way the game went–one team would get a little bit, and the other team would come back,” Martelli said. “It certainly wasn’t a raucous atmosphere up until that point, but I’ll look at it and see–I don’t think it made us play faster, or out of character, we just made some out-of-character plays; plays that were home runs instead of singles.”
Galloway, who had been battling a shooting slump over SJU’s first seven games, had his best performance from the floor so far this year with 22 points on 6-of-13 shooting, hitting 6-of-10 from three. He came into the game having made just 12-of-39 (30.8 percent) on 3-pointers.
Besides Galloway, Saint Joseph’s had some struggles on the offensive end. Carl Jones had 16 points but needed 14 shots to get there as the Hawks shot just 38.3 percent (18-of-47) for the game. Ronald Roberts, Jr. had 10 points as the final SJU player in double figures.
“The game is always in the numbers, it doesn’t change,” Martelli said. “Pick any number that you want–47 shots to 61 shots, 18 turnovers with a veteran group, 15 offensive rebounds allowed, 68 percent from the foul line. It’s just a numbers game.”
The Hawks’ coach spoke earlier about needing to find some more bench players to fill out a rotation that has tended to focus on just six players. Once again, however, their starters each played at least 32 minutes, sixth man Chris Wilson played 24 and Papa Ndao was the only other SJU player to hit the court with two whole minutes.
Villanova was in desperate need of a big victory, having lost its first two games to the A-10 members of the Big 5; a 77-74 loss at La Salle in overtime stung, but maybe not as much as losing at home to Temple by 15 like the Wildcats did last Wednesday. This was their third Big 5 game in a row after beating Penn, 68-55, in a foul-riddled affair.
“I thought we made some progress after the Temple game, playing Penn,” Wright said. “I didn’t wanna lose it…I just think St. Joe’s is really good. I think they were capable of coming in here and making a lot of shots and beating us.”
SJU now has an 11-day layoff until its next game, a visit from Fairfield on Dec. 22. Villanova is in action this Sunday when the Wildcats host Delaware.