Saturday, February 17, 2007

#14 Hoyas Rally, Scoring Final 7 Pts Of Game To Top Villanova at Wachovia Center, 58-55

Villanova could not seize the opportunity to assure itself of a NCAA bid on Saturday, February 17, 2007, against #14 Georgetown, at the Wachovia Center in South Philadelphia. Trailing 55-51, the Hoyas rallied to score the final seven points of the contest, and win their ninth straight game.

Georgetown improved to 10-2 Big East, 20-5 overall, led by Jeff Green's 19 points on 8-15 shooting, and a career-high eight blocks. Georgetown's victory was that much more impressive due to the fact that star center Roy Hibbert sat on the bench for most of the game, due to a quick slide into foul trouble. He finished with only four points. Jesse Sapp's 16 points were also crucial to the Georgetown victory, in particular a 55-foot desperation heave at the end of the first half which somehow went in.

The Wildcats saw their four-game winning streak end, dropping to 6-6 Big East, 18-8 overall. Scottie Reynolds, playing with foul trouble, scored 18 points on 7-14 shooting; Curtis Sumpter added 15 points on 4-11 shooting.

Georgetown avenged a 56-52 loss to Villanova in Washington, DC, on Monday, January 8, and beat the Wildcats for the first time in its last four tries.

So how did Georgetown survive? Read on...

Hibbert picked up his first foul on the opening possession, and after picking up his second foul prior to the under-16-minute TV timeout, was confined to the bench by JT III for the balance of the half (although not before he had the - probably unexpected - chance to be guarded one-on-one by Mike Nardi for one possession.)

Unusual signal early in the first half – there was a warning by one of the officials to VU, not to touch the basketball, after a field goal. After blowing the whistle, the official then gave a sweeping signal that resembled the “incomplete pass” signal in football, but one which I had not previously seen. The ESPN broadcasters helped the viewers by explaining the unexpected whistle and signal’s meaning, concisely.

There were frequent, spectacular dunks by Georgetown. With Hibbert in foul trouble, Patrick Ewing, Jr. played a lot (his jersey number actually is his father's 33, but makes the important generational distinction of “Ewing Jr” on the back. Scottie Reynolds was on fire, during the end of the first half, helping Villanova to increase its lead.

However, what probably kept the Hoyas in good morale, was a genuinely incredible, 55-foot, beyond half-court, desperation buzzer-beater by Jesse Sapp to make it 29-27. The final minutes were unusual, VU had the ball with 41 seconds (and change), did not score, but GU in transition lost possession and returned it to VU with 19 seconds (and change) left. This was highly significant (or appeared to be.) Not only would GU not take the final shot, thus depriving the Hoyas of a chance to score – but it also added a free possession to ‘Nova.

At least it seemed that way, before Nardi waited – properly, 99.9% of the time – long enough to shoot, to prevent Georgetown from scoring.. But the miracle shot went in, giving the Hibbert-less Hoyas a huge momentum boost going into the locker room, and triggering some quiet awe from the Villanova partisans. It was the culmination of a 9-0 GU run that ended the half. VU’s lead had been 29-18 – now it was 29-27. In addition, Reynolds, Cunningham, and Sumpter had all been whistled for their second fouls during this stretch. Even without Hibbert, though, the Hoyas were controlling the paint. Georgetown only averages four blocks a game, as a team. However, they already had eight blocks, in just the first half. Jeff Green was the force in the paint for the Hoyas, making up for Hibbert's absence.

By the under-16 timeout of the second half, Hibbert still had no shots and only five touches, all at the foul line or beyond (i.e., not in the paint). Hibbert was making his presence felt on the defensive end, twice forcing Villanova into jump balls with his interior defense.

At the 13:36 mark, Reggie Redding - a product of Philadelphia's St. Joseph's Prep - attempted to drive on Hibbert, and managed to get Hibbert his 3rd personal foul. Orthodoxy would dictate that JT III remove him, given that the score was now 39-39 (he left him on the bench during the entire first half, during all of which Georgetown trailed, sometimes significantly). But Hibbert stayed in. Redding made one of the two FTs to put VU up, 40-39.

Staying with Hibbert, Georgetown would gain the lead for the first time at 42-40. At the 12:12 mark, Hibbert finally got the ball in the lane, but was fouled by Dante Cunningham before he could shoot, so he still had no shot attempts, as GU got the ball on the side. At the 11:48 mark, Hibbert finally got a shot, and scored - it was GU up by four, 44-40. It was a 15-3 GU run at this point, GU's largest lead.

There appeared to be reason for optimism among the Wildcat faithful, however, when at 10:50:

Hibbert – just having finally broken through the VU defense, after 68 minutes of being prevented from shooting – committed a foolish foul, after VU drove to the lane and successfully rebounded the ball. He got whistled for his 4th foul; with GU still up 44-40, obviously, JT III had no choice but to remove him.

Sheridan hit a basket from the corner to make it 44 all. Georgetown seemed to have recovered a bit by gettting Reynolds's fourth foul at the 8:06 mark, as he was defending Green. In consequence, Jay Wright had to send Reynolds to the bench, of course. When Sumpter hit a three from the corner, while being defended, to put 'Nova back up 48-46, JT III opted to return Hibbert to the game. To his credit, Hibbert managed to stay in the game and never fouled out.

With less than four minutes left, Wright sent Reynolds back in - and he drained what appeared to be the game-deciding shot, boosting the Wildcats’ late lead to 55-51 with just 3:26 to play, and engaging the huge crowd in the contest.

The under-4-minute timeout saw the Wildcats clinging to a 55-53 lead with 2:29 to play and 9 seconds on the shot clock (Hibbert had scored the second of his two buckets). However, the 'Cats were unable to complete a shot (the 13th Georgetown block of the day), and lost possession due to the shot-clock expiration, a costly blunder. At the other end, however, Sheridan made what Villanova fans hoped would be the decisive defensive play. As Hibbert attempted to go to the hoop, Sheridan was able to block his shot, which Cunningham rebounded. Villanova called timeout at 1:53, with the lead and the ball, and Sheridan and Redding enthusiastically chest-bumping as they sprinted to the bench.

At this point, it unraveled for VU. They simply couldn't score. Georgetown closed it to 55-54, and on the ensuing possession, Nardi was forced to call a timeout with 43.9 seconds left and just 3 on the shot clock. Coming out of the timeout, VU once again was hit with a shot-clock violation. After a timeout of their own in the offensive end with 32.8 seconds remaining, the Hoyas retook the lead at 56-55. Villanova took its last timeout to consider its options.

Ultimately, Wright used a play designed to free Shane Clark (undoubtedly, not whom Georgetown expected to be taking such a game-winning shot) in the corner for a three. Clark had a great look, but it didn't go down. Green rebounded it and was fouled with 3.8 seconds to go. After making both, Reynolds dribbled speedily to the other end, and did manage to launch an off-balance, but reasonably clear three-pointer that would have counted had it gone in - but it didn't. Game over, Georgetown 58, Villanova 55.

Despite the low score, this was a marvelously entertaining game to watch. Granted, today's score is more likely to be conjuring up images of a more traditional Villanova/Georgetown game in the 50s- such as the Villanova victory on January 8, where the Hoyas committed 22 turnovers. They had only 11 today - and the Wildcats had only seven. There were great plays made on both sides, and Georgetown, particularly in the first half, had some spectacular dunks, some coming off the Princeton-offense backdoor cuts. (The most stunning was one from young Ewing over Mike Nardi.)

What is particularly frustrating, is that Villanova had three clear chances to seize this game, but was unable to put Georgetown away. The Wildcats led by 11 points in the first half and had Hibbert forced to the bench with foul trouble. The Hoyas rallied even without him, and reduced the deficit to 29-27 at halftime. The second opportunity came after Villanova had raced out to a 37-29 lead at the beginning of the second half, with Hibbert remaining uninvolved in the contest due to foul trouble and successful defense, particularly by Will Sheridan. The Hoyas rallied a second time.

Finally, there was Reynolds’ triple, right after coming back in with four fouls. The freshman drained what appeared to be the game-deciding shot, boosting the Wildcats’ late lead to 55-51 with just 3:26 to play, and engaging the huge crowd in the contest. Unfortunately, Villanova was unable to score for the rest of the contest, despite numerous timeouts (official, and called by both teams) to set up plays. And when Villanova did get open shots, down the stretch, they missed.

Of some concern is the lack of scoring output: Villanova’s 55 points were a season low, beating the pair of 56s from earlier in the season, against West Virginia and St. Joseph's. Villanova has plenty of offensive scoring weapons (Sumpter, Reynolds, Nardi, and to an increasing degree, Cunningham), and it appears that shooting accuracy (as opposed to turnovers, rebounding, etc.) is the biggest obstacle to victories for the rest of the season. The Wildcats shot only 35% today and lost despite having more rebounds and fewer turnovers. (Consider this statistic: VU had 18 field goals, while Georgetown had 14 blocked shots. When the opponent blocks almost as many shots as you make, you're in trouble.)

Of interest: Villanova used only seven players today. Bilal Benn, despite seeing his minutes sharply increase recently, and with Reynolds sinking into foul trouble, never even made it into the game. As expected, Dwayne Anderson saw no time, either.

Silver Lining

If anything, it was a home loss where there will not be much fallout, other than the opportunity-cost of securing a NCAA bid and needing to find another win somewhere in conference play to make it to 8-8. Georgetown had won its previous eight contests by a high, double-digit margin, and in contrast, the Hoyas had to really battle, in order to escape Philadelphia with a win. Redding and Sheridan also had top-notch games. Sheridan played more minutes than he has been recently, with outstanding defense to go with some boards (he had half a dozen rebounds in 27 minutes). Redding contributed half a dozen points in just 16 minutes.

This was of no importance, but at the under-4-minute TV timeout in the first half, the VU pep band played a fine rendition of the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean, a great pep band song.

Next Up For the Wildcats

Villanova will need to shake off the loss quickly, as the Wildcats must fly to Milwaukee immediately, to take on the Marquette Golden Eagles on Monday, February 19, 2007. It will be their second game against a ranked opponent in three days.

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1 comment:

donald said...

Tough loss for Nova -- you guys really have figured out how to play Georgetown. Wright's plan to press Georgetown worked amazingly well. The Hoyas were only able to get into their offense with 25 seconds left on the shot clock. As a result, there were fewer chances for defensive players to lapse on backdoor cuts, and Georgetown's offense struggled. You guys definitely out-strategized them today.

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