A couple weeks ago, I was sitting around with silver fox when he said we might as well go to the Georgetown-Villanova game to close out the Wildcats' regular season. Since the game was to be played at the Wells Fargo Center, securing tickets wouldn't be a problem, and shit, the game itself would most likely have huge NCAA Tournament implications for a Nova squad that has been on the bubble for more than a month.
So last night, the two of us headed down to the Wells Fargo Center and secured two tickets six rows off the court to the right of the Villanova band and student section.
After walking around a little bit deciding on food options, we finally nabbed a few overpriced sausages and headed to our seats. When we got there, an older woman had her coat and scarf draped over one of our two seats. Being the irrationally angry person I am at times, this infuriated me. Not the fact that the woman had her coat in a seat she didn't have a ticket for — if no one is next to you, by all means, put your coat there — but the fact that she was sitting a couple seats over, not directly next to her coat. The fuck was she doing?
Somehow showing some restraint, I was polite about it, handing her her coat and scarf and letting her know it was our seat, but I really wanted to choke her to death because I was in a bad mood and I had the feeling I was about to watch Villanova toss away its NCAA Tournament hopes the same way it had tossed away apparent victories over the likes of Seton Hall and Pittsburgh in previous games.
Add to that the fact that every time I got to a Villanova home game, I cannot help but notice the incredible lack of diversity of the crowd. Head to the travesty of a gym that is the Pavilion or take in a marquee game in South Philadelphia for the Wildcats, and you walk into seemingly some sort of J.Crew catalog ad. There are swarms of old to middle-aged couples wearing designer clothes and looking like people I would never even want to talk to, and then there's the student body you would associate with an expensive private university out on the Main Line. Translation — even as a middle-class white male who grew up mostly in suburbs before returning to the City of Brotherly Love as an adult, I feel much more comfortable at a Temple home game with its diverse crowd. I'm not entirely sure why, but there you have it.
Anyway, back to the game. Almost immediately, my fears were coming to fruition, as the Hoyas began the game with a three-pointer and jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead. I jokingly said the game was already over at that point, might as well beat the traffic.
But then a funny thing happened. Jay Wright made a quick substitution after his team started with two turnovers and a foul, and everything changed from there. Senior Mouphtaou Yarou was dominating the glass, and JayVaughn Pinkston was playing as aggressive as I've ever seen him play, attacking whichever Hoya was attempting to handle him inside nearly every possession he was on the court.
Further, Wright, sensing that he'd need his team fresh for an intense, crucial 40 minutes, began subbing his players in and out at nearly every dead ball, almost as if making line changes in hockey. It was quite a sight to behold, some real chess going on against John Thompson III, and it worked — perfectly. Before you could blink, the Wildcats went on a 10-2 run to take the lead, and suddenly it was a ballgame again. However, it was tough to tell from the crowd. The upper section was barren, and even the full lower bowl was subdued most of the first half. That is, until James Bell threw down a thunderous, improbable alley-oop from Ryan Arcidiacono. When Arcidiacono threw it, I honestly thought he had tossed it way too high and that it was destined to go out of bounds. Instead, Bell somehow caught it and threw it down emphatically, sparking the mostly dormant crowd.
By the time the first half was winding down, Nova had the ball up by four following an Arc three, and Mouphtaou Yarou hit a jumper as time was winding down to seemingly put the Cats up by six with 20 minutes to play. Alas, the ball was still in Mouph's hands as the buzzer sounded, so Nova had to settle for a four-point halftime lead. Not too shabby, particularly when you take into account the way Nova played that first half.
The aforementioned Pinkston was nearly unstoppable, embarrassing any Hoya who dared try to handle him, and he began to parade to the free throw line.
Mouph was a monster on the boards, cleaning up the glass any time the ball came near him, and Bell not only hit a couple of big three-pointers, but he also completely and utterly shut down the heralded Player of the Year candidate Otto Porter Jr. in the first 20 minutes, to the point that you could hardly notice Porter on the floor at all. It was the best defensive job I've ever seen Bell do, taking Georgetown's best player and making him a complete non-factor in the first half.
However, it was going to take another really strong half to come away with the victory. After all, the Hoyas kept it close despite sloppy play in large part because they were defending the three and giving Ryan Arcidiacono no space, and also because D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera kept hitting big shots every time it looked like Nova might pull away.
As expected, Georgetown did not go away quietly, but it really didn't matter. Wright continued his hockey-style substitutions, keeping all his guys fresh, and the defense continued to hound Georgetown into turnovers and bad shots. Porter did get on track a little when Bell wasn't guarding him, but with the game in the balance, Bell went back to his shutdown work on the top Hoya and took him off his game yet again.
From there, it was the JayVaughn Pinkston show. The man simply took over, playing arguably the best game of his career, if not then certainly the most aggressive.
Thanks to his aggressive nature, Nova was in the bonus and then double bonus in no time … but the Cats uncharacteristically were struggling from the line. Early anyway. But once it came to crunch time, Pinkston, Arcidiacono and Darrun Hilliard couldn't miss. Just like that, it was Nova's third victory of the season over a top 5 team, and it more than likely punched the Wildcats' ticket to the big dance.
It was a total team effort, no doubt. Defensively, James Bell was the star, keeping Porter in check and making him a complete non-factor at times. I can't say enough about the job Bell did last night. Further, his teammates were aggressive all over the court defensively, forcing 22 Georgetown turnovers and doing it without fouling.
Conversely, the team was just as aggressive on offense, getting to the line an insane 42 times, led by Pinkston — the star of the game — who managed a game-high 20 points on just 4-6 from the field … and 11-14 from the line. He added five steals and four boards for good measure.
On top of that, Nova didn't force things on the offensive end, particularly Arcidiacono. That's somewhat of a rarity for the freshman out of Neshaminy, a kid who's never passed up an open shot in his life. But last night, he was patient and smart with the ball. Arcidiacono went the first five minutes without even a shot attempt, and he only took five shots from the floor all game thanks to Georgetown's tremendous defense around the perimeter and defending the three-point line. So Arc just played within himself and the system and helped feed Pinkston and the rest of the squad.
It resulted in another great win for Nova, and now a team that many picked to finish at the bottom of the Big East standings is not only sitting at 10-8 in conference play, but at 19-12 overall with big victories over Louisville, Syracuse and now Georgetown. With last night's capper, Villanova should be securely in the field of 68 — a win or two (or three) in the Big East Tournament, and it's not even a question.
After the muted celebration, we headed out for celebratory cheesesteaks, watched some Workaholics and then saw us all get Nnamdi'd.
Maybe he was calling Ruxin while he was eating lunch in his car. It all makes sense now, unlike the Big 5 this year.
But hey, Villanova got a great victory last night, Temple destroyed Fordham and St. Joe's really destroyed Rhode Island, so things aren't nearly as bad as they were just a little while ago for Philadelphia college basketball. And now there's a very real chance Nova, Temple and La Salle will be dancing. For the Wildcats, they can thank Georgetown for forgetting about JayVaughn Pinkston last night.