Friday, November 21, 2003

Midnight Tip-Off Doesn't Help Temple Owls, As Villanova Wildcats Thrash Them, 73-48

To the Villanova Wildcats faithful-

In one of the most unusual games in Big Five history - in background, timing and outcome - Villanova shocked the Temple Owls, 73-48, early Friday morning at the Liacouras Center, with Allan Ray and Randy Foye leading the way with 20 points apiece. For Temple, David Hawkins led with 16 points, while Dustin Salisbery was also impressive, scoring 13 points.

It was both the City Series and regular season opener for both teams. In an extremely competitive rivalry, the lopsided margin was stunning: the 25 point advantage was Villanova's largest margin of victory over Temple in 21 years. It marked the Wildcats' first-ever victory at Temple's gleaming building - they fell there in 1999 and in the 2002 NIT quarterfinals. The game was unusual for two reasons:

  1. First and foremost, the game was played at the witching hour, due to scheduling conflicts between the two schools, stemming from the aftermath of last year's phone code suspensions. Tip-off came just after midnight and the buzzer went off at 1:45 AM. Radio broadcaster Ryan Fannon signed off his post-game show at 2:12 AM (and sounded as if he wouldn't have minded staying on the air till 6 AM).
  2. Due to the aforementioned suspensions, Villanova had only nine players, including:
  • - two freshmen (Mike Nardi and Will Sheridan)
  • - four walkons (Tom Grace, Ross Condon, Baker Dunleavy, and Mike Claxton);
  • - a redshirt freshman (Baker Dunleavy);

Basically, only Allan Ray, Randy Foye and Curtis Sumpter had meaningful basketball experience, of Jay Wright's entire squad last night- in other words, a trio of SOPHOMORES were Villanova's veterans last night. The other six players had played 14 minutes, combined, all from Claxton. (Jason Fraser dressed for the game but had a boot on, and so he couldn't have played, even if it had been necessary.)

c) City Series games have been played at a wide assortment of venues over the years, and under some fairly bizarre circumstances, but the circumstances of Friday morning's game will rank up there with any of them. And people were stoked about the game - the novelty of the tip time and the nocturnal nature of college students both contributing greatly to the huge crowd. Temple nearly sold out the game and the building was packed with partisans of both squads.

This was Villanova's second straight win over Temple and its third in four tries. The last time the Wildcats devastated the Owls so decisively was on December 18, 1982, at the Palestra. 'Nova triumphed 82-55 in that contest.

It would have been an impressive victory even if Villanova had been playing at full strength. To win at Temple by such a rout - playing with three sophomores and six guys with no college basketball experience - is nothing short of incredible - nearly miraculous, in fact. Undoubtedly, Temple coach John Chaney felt the same way. (His players are going to have a rough day/night: I cannot imagine how unpleasant it must be to have Chaney upset with you at 2 AM, which is undoubtedly WAY past his bedtime and he's already pretty cranky, even when his team isn't upset by a skeleton crew at home. He might have ordered them just to practice right after the game and go straight through to his normal, infamous 6 AM practice.)

And it was a genuine ROUT. Not all 25 point victories are created equal - sometimes, one team just blows it open in the second half. In this case, Villanova breezed to victory from the opening tip. Temple wasn't even remotely competitive, from the time of tip-off till the final buzzer. Temple not only never led, it never even managed a tie beyond 3-3.

Give Jay Wright credit. Due to his short bench and lack of available talent, he was forced to use a zone defense to conserve his players. Wright has shown a distaste for zone; the Wildcats nearly always play man-to-man. Even last year, in similar situations against Pittsburgh, Georgetown and Siena, he played zone - but not anywhere near as much as he did tonight.

And Temple simply had no answer for it. 'Nova stayed in zone for the entire game and strangled Temple's offense. Granted, the Owls were hampered by the unavailability of Keith Butler, who was out with an ankle injury, but his absence can hardly account for such a wipeout.

Villanova shot a blistering 61% (26-43) from the floor, while holding Temple to a pathetic 27% (19-70) from the floor. (There is some inconsistency in game statistics from different sources. The numbers used here are those provided immediately after the contest, which differ from the ESPN box score numbers.) 'Nova shot a fantastic 50% (9-18) from three-point range while Temple was an anemic 25% (10-40) from beyond the arc. A really odd disparity: 'Nova took 18 free throws, making 12; Temple took two the entire game and missed both.

In addition to the stellar performances by Ray and Foye, Curtis Sumpter (14 points) and Mike Nardi (11 points) also reached double figures. It was a highly auspicious debut for the freshman Nardi, who navigated the tough Temple defense as if he'd been doing it for years. In his collegiate debut, Nardi dealt seven assists, against only two turnovers.

Foye, Ray, Nardi, Sumpter and freshman Will Sheridan were the starting five for the Wildcats, and they played the overwhelming majority of the minutes - all but 13 of the 200. Mike Claxton logged 10 minutes, while Baker Dunleavy, Tom Grace and Ross Condon each saw a single minute of action.

The game opened with Nardi's first-ever shot as a Wildcat - a successful three-pointer! It was an omen of things to come.

It took the 'Cats a little while to pull away - they held only a modest 6-5 lead at the under-16 minute timeout, at 15:25. But the Wildcats quickly embarked on a 12-3 run, giving them a solid lead which they never relinquished. A Ray triple and a Foye pull-up jumper gave the Wildcats a 18-8 lead in the early going, forcing Chaney to call a timeout at around the 11:15 mark. At that point, 'Nova had made seven of 11 shots and Temple only 3 of 12 - and the trend continued throughout the game.

Temple crawled back to 21-17 on a bucket by Hawkins, but they never drew any closer. One big play happened near the end of the first half - with 'Nova leading 29-19, Ray went in for what should have been a dunk, but Hawkins made an extraordinary defensive effort and snuffed him, arguably committing a foul. The Temple fans went nuts at the sight, but the officials awarded 'Nova a foul, costing the Owls some badly needed momentum. At the half, 'Nova held a strong 32-22 lead and were in complete control. At that point, Sumpter led all Villanova scorers with eight points, including six from the line. Hawkins led Temple with 10.

To begin the second half, Salisbery drained a three, cutting the 'Nova lead to seven. But that was the ONLY time in the second half that Temple was even within double-digits. Villanova responded with a swift 10-0 run which effectively ended the game. Foye and Ray hit back-to-back threes, and Ray followed it up with a bucket, forcing Temple to call another timeout, trailing 40-25 with 18:21 to play. Coming out of the timeout, the Owls committed a shot clock violation (something which should almost never happen immediately after a timeout). Nardi added a basket to extend the lead to 17.

At this point, the Owls showed their desperation, switching from the trademark zone to man-to-man - something they only do if they're behind by a lot in the second half. It didn't help - Villanova's lead kept ballooning. With around 2:14 to go, Nardi fed Sumpter for a spectacular alley-oop dunk, putting 'Nova up 67-45 and eliciting a huge cheer from the Villanova fans.

And even when Wright emptied his bench in the last two minutes, sending in Dunleavy, Grace and Condon, the lead kept GROWING. The dunk put 'Nova up by 22; the 'Cats ended up winning by 25 in the final tally, their largest lead of the game. Dunleavy was actually able to score two points, Grace hit one of two free throws, and Condon grabbed a rebound. Claxton, who played 10 minutes, managed a free throw as well.

All of the Wildcats were superb. While Sheridan didn't fill up the stat sheet as colorfully as his teammates, he had a strong debut game as well, playing all 40 minutes, scoring four points, grabbing three rebounds and dealing two assists. Foye had a double-double, hauling down ten boards to go with his 20 points.

Unfortunately, it's only the beginning of this road trip and the Wildcats and their coaching staff won't have much time to savor the unexpected victory. They are flying to LA on Friday, doing battle with the Division III University of Redlands (65 miles outside LA), on Saturday morning at 10 AM West Coast time. And that game will not be a slow affair: Redlands likes to run and score 100 points a game. After that game, they head out to Hawaii for three games in the Maui Classic, which begins on Monday.

In summary, it was about THE best possible game that Villanova could have played, under these circumstances. I can't imagine a single aspect of the game, that I would have changed. Hopefully, it will be a harbinger of many other positive outcomes this season.

Go Wildcats!

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