The Villanova Wildcats squandered a 20 point first half lead (39-19), and lost to the surging Fighting Irish of Notre Dame 74-70 in overtime. Notre Dame won its eighth straight game to boost its record to 19-8 overall, 11-3 Big East. For the struggling Wildcats, it was another tough loss in a season full of tough losses. Villanova fell to 11-15 overall, 4-10 Big East.
Villanova played, perhaps, their best half of basketball all season in the opening period and went into the intermission leading by 16 points, 39-23. Paced by Freshman JayVaughn Pinkston, the Wildcats hit 15 of 31 shots in the opening half, including 4 of 8 from three point range. The Wildcats also dominated on the glass, winning the rebounding margin 24-10. Villanova also had 8 assists against only 3 turnovers in the opening half.
After trailing early 10-5, Villanova went on a 20-2 run to take a 25-12 lead. With just over a minute and a half to go in the half, the Wildcats lead ballooned to 39-19. Pinkston had 14 points, Dominic Cheek had 11 points, and Mouph Yarou had 7 rebounds as the teams went to the locker room. All of this was accomplished without leading scorer Maalik Wayns, who missed his second straight game with an injury. James Bell also sat out the game with an injury. In their place, Freshman Ty Johnson and Junior Maurice Sutton got the start for Villanova. Jack Cooley was the Irish’s only player in double figures in the first half with 10 points.
The second half saw Notre Dame mount a slow but steady comeback aided by excellent outside shooting from Pat Connaughton, who ended up hitting 7 three point shots (three in the second half and two in the overtime session). Eric Atkins, held to just three points in the opening half, added 11 in the second half and also stepped up the defensive pressure on Ty Johnson. The Irish put together a 13-0 run late in the second half to turn a 56-47 Villanova lead to a 60-56 edge for Notre Dame. It took a last second put-back by Maurice Sutton to tie the game at 60-60 and send the contest into overtime.
In the overtime period, the Irish broke a 65-65 tie, with back to back three pointers from Connaughton and Jerian Grant to take a 71-65 lead that they would not relinquish. Once again, Villanova let a game get away that was theirs for the taking. Notre Dame’s composure and effort enabled the visitors to pull out the win before a crowd of 15, 939 at the Wells Fargo Center.
For Villanova, Pinkston was the leading scorer with 24 points. Mo Sutton had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Dom Cheek added 19 points, Mouph Yarou had 11 boards (to lead the Wildcats), and Ty Johnson, who played a season high 40 minutes, had 7 assists against only 2 turnovers.
For Notre Dame, Connaughton led the scoring with 21 points, all coming on three pointers. Cooley with 18, Atkins with 17, and Grant with 10 also scored in double figures. Cooley ended up with a game high 13 rebounds, and Grant had 9 assists for the Irish.
Next up for Villanova is a game against the UCONN Huskies, last year’s National champions, at the Wells-Fargo Center at 7 pm on Monday, February 20th. Guard Dallas Ouano, Villanova’s lone senior, will be honored before the game. The Irish return to action on Wednesday February 22nd when they entertain the West Virginia Mountaineers.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie attended the game and sat behind the Notre Dame bench.
[photo credits: Michael Green]
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