The Number 1 seeded Villanova Wildcats and the 8th seeded North Carolina State Wolfpack faced off in a third round NCAA Tournament game at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, PA on Saturday, March 21 (7:10 PM tip). When it was all said and done, the big, bad, wolves huffed, and puffed, and blew the Wildcats down.
Villanova started off skittishly – hitting only 2 of its first 14 field goal attempts. The Wolfpack, in contrast, hit 5 of their first 8 shots from the field. After the Wildcats took a 7-4 lead, the Wolfpack roared back going on a 9-0 run to take a 13-7 lead with 11:20 remaining in the opening half. Villanova rallied to tie the game at 17-17 on a basket by Dylan Ennis. The teams then deadlocked at 19-19, 21-21, 23-23, and 25-25. Phil Booth’s three pointer gave the Wildcats their last lead of the half at 28-25 with 2:10 to play. The Wolfpack’s Caleb Martin drained a three pointer to knot the score at 28-28, and was fouled. Martin converted the foul shot to put North Carolina State on top 29-28. Villanova had an opportunity to regain the lead when it forced the Wolfpack to turn the ball over (on a 10 second violation) with 0:35 on the clock. The Wildcats, however, failed to convert. NC State took advantage of the last few seconds remaining in the half and got a huge three pointer from Trevor Lacey with 0:01 on the clock to go into the locker room with a 32-28 lead.
Villanova had won its last 50+ games when it lead at the intermission (the longest active streak in the country). The Wildcats inability to close out the first half with a bucket (which would have given them a 1 or 2 point lead) was a harbinger of things to come. The first half had 6 lead changes and 8 ties.
Villanova struggled with its shooting in the opening twenty minutes, hitting only 8 of 28 shots (28.6%). The Wolfpack, by contrast, hit on 13 of 27 shots (48.1%). The Wolfpack also out-rebounded the Wildcats 21-15.
NC State opened the second half on a 13-5 run to expand its lead to 45-33 (at the 13:28 mark) on a layup by Malik-Abdul Abu. Abu was one of two Wolfpack players who ended up with a double-double. The Wildcats continued to struggle with their shooting and keeping the Wolfpack’s front court off the boards. With 3:25 left in the game, NC State maintained an eight point lead 62-54. Villanova senior JayVaughn Pinkston then scored 5 straight points to narrow the lead to 62-59 with under three minutes to play. The Wolfpack pushed the lead back to 66-59 with 1:37 left on the clock. Villanova’s other senior, Darrun Hilliard, tried to will his team to victory by hitting three triples, the last one with 3 seconds left to bring the Wildcats within one point, 69-68. The Wolfpack’s Ralston Turner converted two foul shots with 2 seconds to go to make it 71-68. Villanova’s last second heave went astray to end the game. Villanova had a chance to take the lead with about 17 seconds when Ennis had a wide open look at a three-pointer from the top of the key but he was unable to convert.
Villanova came into the contest with NC State sporting a record of 33-2, having won its last 16 games. The Wildcats had won the Big East regular season crown for the second consecutive season, and the Big East Tournament for the first time under Coach Jay Wright (and for the first time since 1995). However, poor shooting, and an inability to keep the Wolfpack guards out of the lane and off of the boards, cost Villanova an opportunity to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. The Wildcats winning record this season was based on sharing the ball, which led to balanced scoring, and tough, tenacious defense. This was only the third time all season Villanova shot under 37% from the field. They lost all three of those contests.
NC State, with a record of 22-13, received balanced scoring, placing 4 players in double figures. Lacey paced the Wolfpack with 17 points. Abu and Anthony Barber chipped in 13 each. Lennard Freeman had 11 points to go with 12 rebounds. Abu also grabbed 12 boards. The Wolfpack won the rebounding battle by a wide margin 45-32.
Villanova was led by Hilliard who had a game high 27 points in his final game for the Wildcats. Pinkston collected 13 points in his last game for Villanova. Hilliard and Pinkston were the only Wildcats to score in double figures. Phil Booth added 9 points.
Many pundits and many fans thought the Wildcats might go far this year in the Tournament. Clearly the loss brought much disappointment. Whether the loss will tarnish all that came before is a question that will take some time to answer. Over the past two seasons, the Wildcats have won 62 games and lost 8. However, two of those losses came in the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament despite having a 1 seed this year and a 2 seed last year (when they lost to UCONN in the round of 32).
In the night cap, #3 Notre Dame defeated #6 Butler to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in the Mid-West region.
[Photo credit: D. Jacob Miller Photography]
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