Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Wildcats Ground Monmouth Hawks, 70-50, at the Pavilion

In a solid, albeit unspectacular, effort, the Wildcats overcame some atrocious first-half turnovers to ground the Monmouth Hawks, 70-50, at the Pavilion on Tuesday night. 'Nova committed an appalling 11 miscues in the first half, and led by just seven at intermission. However, the Wildcats blew the game open early in the second half and breezed to victory, maintaining a comfortable double-digit lead for most of the second stanza.

The sluggish start may have been due to some letdown after the difficult City Series loss to Temple at the Palestra on Saturday. Villanova improved its record to 2-1 on the young season, while Monmouth fell to 1-5 overall.

Four Wildcats reached double figures in the contest. Allan Ray and Curtis Sumpter each scored 14 points to lead all scorers, while Randy Foye (12 points) and Mike Nardi (10 points) also made significant contributions on the offensive end. Tyler Azzarelli led the Hawks with 10 points.

Villanova filled up the stat sheets very well. The bigger Wildcats crushed the Hawks on the glass, outrebounding them 36-22, and swatting eight Monmouth shots (three of those courtesy of Will Sheridan). 'Nova made 53% of its shots overall and a formidable 46% from beyond the arc, as well as a nearly-perfect 13-14 from the free throw line (93%).

Perhaps more importantly, 'Nova has played very tenacious defense thus far this year. In three games, the Wildcats have yet to yield more than 53 points. UMBC scored 41, Temple 53, and Monmouth 50; that's a good sign for the future. Also, the Hawks weren't strangers to Big East competition; in fact, in their last outing, Monmouth had actually led Seton Hall at the Meadowlands at halftime, before the Pirates fought back and eventually blew them out by 20 - ironically, 70-50, precisely the same score as tonight's contest. However, familiarity and short road trips haven't helped Monmouth against Big East opponents; the Northeast Conference school is now 0-24 all-time against the Big East.

It was Monmouth's first game against Villanova, since the Hawks came to the Main Line for the Pavilion's inaugural season in 1985-86. Villanova improved to 4-0 all-time against the Hawks. (As a New Jersey-based, nearby cupcake opponent, one would think we'd see them more often.) The Hawks also were an opponent of the 1984-85 Wildcats, who went on to capture the national championship; Villanova won a 77-62 decision that year.

The final minute of the first half was interminable, due to a couple of timeouts and a mistake by Randy Foye. Attempting a long pass on an inbounds play with less than two seconds remaining, Foye hit the scoreboard overhanging center court. This 11th and final turnover of the first half gave Monmouth an additional possession, and the Hawks capitalized upon it, with Chris Kenny scoring at the buzzer to trim the 'Nova lead to 29-22.

'Nova's defensive statistics at halftime were awesome. Monmouth was held to a shooting percentage of just 28.5%, on 8-28 shooting, and the Hawks also committed nine turnovers in being limited to just 22 points. Unfortunately, 'Nova's torrid 58% shooting percentage was offset by the 11 turnovers. Allan Ray was leading the way with nine points.

Fortunately, the 'Cats took quick control as soon as play resumed. At the under-16 timeout, VU led 42-30; at the under-12, 'Nova was up 49-32, after leading by just seven at the half. The rest of the game was uncompetitive. The best play came when Foye hit a shot as the shot clock expired at the 8:33 mark, pushing the Villanova advantage to 20. Ross Condon and Mike Grace received some playing time at the end; Condon scooped up a rebound and had an assist Chris Charles dunked, on an assist from Marcus Austin in the final minute. (Coincidentally, Monmouth had a player with the similar-sounding name of Marques Alston, who finished with seven points.)

Allan Ray moved closer to the milestone of 1,000 career points. The junior guard had entered the game 51 points shy of the mark; he finished with 14. With 37 points still to go, It would appear that he'll clear the millenial hurdle on Dec. 22 at the Pavilion, against Albany. He'll be the first Wildcat to join the club since Ricky Wright did so in 2002-03.

One oddity: Mike Nardi had 8 points at halftime, but didn't score again until just after the under-4 minute timeout.

Villanova will resume City Series play at the Palestra on Saturday afternoon, when they take on the La Salle Explorers. Both teams will be seeking to rebound from disappointing losses in last Saturday's 4th Annual Big Five Classic; the Explorers fell to Penn, prior to 'Nova's loss to Temple.

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