by Craig Dimitri
It appeared, for a half at least, that the Pirates of Seton Hall had successfully boarded Villanova's metaphorical, Final-Four-bound, talent-laden sailing vessel on Tuesday night at the Pavilion. Fortunately, the Wildcats fought back the North Jersey buccaneers, eventually subduing the would-be plunderers, by the deceptively large margin of 73-64.
Villanova entered the contest, with a bit of a chip on its shoulder as well. For five weeks, the Wildcats had held steady in the national rankings at #3 in both the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls. However, despite a tenaciously fought loss, on the road, at then #8 Texas on CBS on Saturday, the voters sent the 'Cats tumbling, all the way to #8 by the AP, a marginally better #7 by ESPN/USA Today. While of course, one would always expect the ratings to drop after a defeat, dropping so far after a narrow road loss to another Top 10 school, did not seem warranted.
Of course, falling to #8/#7 was the least of Jay Wright's problems last night at intermission. A loss to mediocre Seton Hall - on the Wildcats' true home floor, no less - would undoubtedly spiral the 'Cats out of the Top 10, regardless of the outcome of the showdown with #20 Syracuse this Saturday.
But the Wildcats pulled through. Randy Foye overcame his first-half inaccuracy and led the team with 19 points, on 6-15 shooting (not great, but enough to beat Seton Hall at home.) However, Will Sheridan and Kyle Lowry were the real stars of the game for 'Nova, turning in superb all-around performances.
Sheridan finished with a dozen points and seven rebounds (including four on the offensive glass). He also made it to the foul line seven times (going 4-6) and blocked three shots, while not committing a turnover. Lowry had 14 points, six rebounds, two assists, three steals, three blocks (he's 6'-0"!)
For Seton Hall, Kelly Whitney (12 points on 6-9 FG shooting, 5 rebounds, 39 minutes logged) and Donald Copeland (14 points, three rebounds, four assists) were the standouts. Whitney ate Villanova alive underneath during the first half, and was the main reason why the Pirates had attained a 41-35 lead at halftime. The Wildcats rarely lose in the Pavilion, and even more rarely when the students are in session, but it looked unpleasantly dicey for a while. Seton Hall was, of course, overmatched, but they battled gallantly, before the Pirate ship took on too much water and went down for good. ("Aargh!") But they will probably look back at it as one of their finest performances this season.
Villanova improved to 12-2 overall, 3-1 Big East, and might enjoy a boost in the polls, with a victory against #20 Syracuse on Saturday. Tip-off is at 6 PM at the Wachovia Center, which is sold out. The Pirates fell to 9-6 overall, 1-3 Big East, and will be fortunate if they reach the NIT.