Thursday, February 19, 2009

#12 Villanova Says Farewell to Seniors Cunningham, Clark, Anderson, and Tchuisi By Slaying Scarlet Knights, 82-72, on Senior Night at the Pavilion

To the Wildcat faithful-

#12 Villanova said farewell to departing seniors Dante Cunningham, Shane Clark, Dwayne Anderson, and Frank Tchuisi on Thursday night, February 19, at the Pavilion. Fortunately, the Wildcats were able to send them off with a victory over lowly Rutgers, in a surprisingly hard-fought 82-72 battle.
And, fortunately, the Scarlet Knights became the 27th consecutive opponent which Villanova has defeated at the cozy on-campus venue. Villanova is now 7-1 all-time against RU at the Pavilion.

Ironically, Fred Hill - at Jay Wright's side for five years as an assistant and associate head coach - was making his second Senior Night appearance at the Pavilion, during his three years with his Rutgers squad. Previously, on February 27, 2007, 'Nova crushed Rutgers, 74-51, on Senior Day. (You can read my recap of that game here - "
Condon, Chivalry, Seniors Reign, As 'Nova Has No Trouble Routing Scarlet Knights on Senior Day at Pavilion, Sending Senior Foursome Off In Style.")

Tonight's Senior Night ceremonies were held because the students will be on Spring Break during the final Pavilion game against Providence on March 5, and the program wanted the students to be on hand for the event.

Villanova improved its record to 9-4 Big East, 20-5 overall, and has won seven of its last eight. Rutgers continued its dreadful campaign, falling to 1-12 Big East and 10-16 overall. (Their only win is against DePaul, the only BE team with no wins.) In the last three years combined, Rutgers has seven BE wins. Unfortunately, last season, Rutgers obtained one of those several wins against Villanova, by upsetting the 'Cats at the RAC, 80-68. Accordingly, it was imperative that there be no repeat of this upset.

The Scarlet Knights emerged on the floor as a collective misnomer, wearing black jerseys. RU had announced that no current Scarlet Knight had appeared in the black jerseys yet, but it did not change their luck.

The bright spots for RU were freshman Mike Rosario, with 19 points, six rebounds, and five assists (plus five turnovers), Anthony Farmer with 17 points, and Corey Chandler, off the bench for 13 points. (These VU/RU games are the rare BE ones where there are three Coreys in the box score...) What destroyed Rutgers in this game were turnovers - 20, to be exact (VU had only half as many, 10). RU shot well from the floor (52.1%), very well from three-point range (45.5%), and tremendously from the line (85.7%), but still suffered a decisive defeat, primarily for that reason.

Villanova benefitted from a well-balanced attack, as four Wildcats finished in double figures. Scottie Reynolds had a game-high 21 points on 5-11 shooting, including an outstanding 10-11 from the line. Both Coreys came off the bench and powered the offense: Stokes had 17 points on 6-9 shooting, including a sizzling 5-7 from beyond the arc; he did it in just 22 minutes of action and also had five rebounds. Most importantly,
Stokes had 14 of his 17 points after halftime, as they keyed Villanova's surge to take control of the contest.

As for Fisher, he added 14 points on 4-5 shooting, plus three assists and no turnovers in only 19 minutes. Finally, the departing senior Cunningham finished with a dozen points and half a dozen rebounds.

All four seniors were properly given the honor of starting, as Cunningham, Clark, Anderson, and Tchuisi were all in the lineup against the black-clad Scarlet Knights at tip-off. Tchuisi - fluent in five languages - committed two fouls in the single minute he played at the beginning, which was entirely understandable. (I was glad to see him get involved in the action.) He would return, amidst chants of "We Want Frank", for the waning seconds of the second half..

The most noteworthy play in the first half was a sensational dunk by Clark at the 17:49 mark, giving 'Nova a 4-3 lead... for a picture of it, go to 'Nova News...

In a nice bit of statistical symmetry, the three seniors who played significantly - Cunningham, Clark and Anderson - all had four points at halftime. Some other noteworthy halftime numbers:

Reynolds led 'Nova with 11 points. Villanova's largest lead was half a dozen points, although there were nine lead changes in the first half, indicating the see-saw battle. 'Nova took a 37-31 lead into the locker room, but RU was far from out of the game, as events early in the second half would make clear.

There was a sequence, early in the second half, which permitted Villanova to establish some initial momentum. First was Gregory Echenique's 3rd foul (he is RU's best rebounder); he was immediately yanked by Fred Hill, but then reinserted in an effort to halt the blue-and-white tide. The second was a fantastic play by Reynolds at the top of the key; he sighted Anderson all alone underneath the basket, fed him a perfect bounce pass, and the senior finished it with a dunk...

Rutgers responded well, though, with some help - ironically - from Cunningham. The senior came up with what appeared to be a clean block on Rosario's layup. However, it was ruled as goaltending and rendered the score 49-43 with 13:32 to play.

This goaltending call seemed to be the spark that gave Rutgers some life. They had been trailing 49-41 at the 14:17 mark, VU's largest lead up until that point. The Scarlet Knights went on a tear - a 13-3 run which vaulted them into a brief lead at 54-52, and again at 56-54, the latter coming at the 10:18 mark on a fadeaway jump shot by Coburn.
(At the 13:05 mark, with Villanova still holding a 49-46 lead, Wright opted to use the first called timeout in the second half to try to halt the momentum. As by rule, this becomes a full timeout, and so the game was a bit choppy, with the under-12 timeout coming up so soon.)

Perhaps recognizing that a loss to 1-10 Rutgers at the Pavilion on Senior Night was too terrible to contemplate, Villanova responded to the Rutgers challenge. That 56-54 lead was RU's last of the game. Suddenly it was 66-56, VU - a 12-0 run that put 'Nova in control for good.

Worth noting : Villanova had just two team fouls at the 12:22 mark, against 5 for RU. At the 8:10 mark, the 7th team foul on RU sent Fisher to the line for a 1+1 opportunity, which he converted to make it 63-56. This was followed by an offensive foul on Mike Coburn, yet another Rutgers turnover. It was now a 9-0 run, with 7:56 to go, Villanova now had a seven-point lead at the under-8. Coincidentally, Reynolds and Fisher each had 14 points, one rebound, and two assists at this point.

In an interesting move, less than a minute later, and with the score now 66-58, Wright opted for a quick timeout as the pep band played a few bars of Beyonce's 2003 hit "Crazy in Love". He appeared displeased by a relatively easy layup made by Chandler...

Villanova swiftly resumed the onslaught after this timeout, blasting Rutgers out of contention and zooming to a 76-61 lead at the under-4 timeout at the 3:59 mark. It was now a 22-5 run for Villanova. Rutgers' lack of depth and the hostile environment meant that the Scarlet Knights were essentially ground down...

The most satisfying play during this run, was a Stokes two-handed dunk off a steal from Reynolds, on a fast break, with 3:05 to play. This dunk boosted the Wildcat lead to a virtually insurmountable 78-63 lead and was the exclamation point on the victory. Hill went down fighting, as he called his last timeout with 2:50 to go, trailing 80-67, but RU never got any closer than the ten-point final margin of 82-72. Another spectacular play happened at the1:16 mark, as Cunningham fed a bounce pass to Reynolds on a textbook backdoor cut, to make it 82-69...

"We Want Frank" chants began late in the second half, and they were rewarded as he re-entered the contest with 27.4 seconds to play.... although Villanova did not run a play and so he had no opportunity to shoot. For more on the game action, check out CBS Sports' GameCenter, for all of the details on the contest...

The game was actually shorter than some recent games, given the fact that it was not especially close at the end; it ended at 11:05 PM, after a late 9 PM tip-off; Senior Night ceremonies began at 8:40...

Looking at the big picture, this was the 32nd meeting all-time between VU and RU. The Wildcats are now 24-8 against Rutgers all-time. This season represents another chapter in the long drought for RU basketball fans. RU has only six NCAA appearances, with its last appearance in 1991, 18 years ago. It hasn't won a NCAA game in 26 years... RU has never appeared in the NCAA tournament, since it joined the Big East in 1995-96...

Some brief thoughts on Senior Night:

It is always a great occasion, to think back to when these players were freshmen. Clark and Cunningham were judiciously used by Wright as off-the-benc defensive specialists on the 2005-06 team that made an Elite Eight run in the NCAA tournament. In many ways, it's hard to believe that they're seniors already. And it's great for a player like Tchuisi, who makes a valuable contribution in practice and is a great representative for the program, to receive some recognition. Wright instituted the practice of introducing the players through the student section, and at no time is the introduction more memorable than during Senior Night.

This class will certainly break the school record for wins by a class. Currently, it is held by the class of '97, fueled by Alvin Williams, Jason Lawson, and Chuck Kornegay, who finished their careers with 95 wins during the Steve Lappas era (1993-2001). Tonight's victory was the 93rd for the class of '09, with five regular season games, the Big East tournament, and the NCAA tournament still ahead of them. It's a remarkable accomplishment, and congratulations to them.

Villanova returns to action on Sunday afternoon at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. The Wildcats crushed Syracuse by 17 points at their first meeting this season, at the Wachovia Center, and will be going for a season sweep.... A full preview will be forthcoming...

Thoughts are welcome...

Go Wildcats!

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MainLiner said...

Nice Recap, keep uo the good work! GO NOVA!!!!!

Villanova Viewpoint Publisher said...

Thanks for the compliment, MainLiner... I'm glad you enjoyed the recap...

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