Thursday, March 19, 2009

NCAA First Round - #3 Villanova, Anderson Ascend Beyond #14 American Eagles, 80-67- After Trailing by 14 in 2nd Half (Part 1)

To the Villanova Wildcats faithful-

#3 Villanova avoided a stunning upset by a gallant #14 American squad on Thursday, overcoming a 14-point second-half deficit to cruise down the stretch for an 80-67 victory, that was far more harrowing for a Villanova fan, than the score would indicate. Dwayne Anderson scored a career-high 25 points, matched by Dante Cunningham's 25, to power the Wildcats into the second round.

Keep checking back, as I will update this article throughout the evening....

NCAA Tournament - First Round - The Wachovia Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

#3 Villanova 80, #14 American 67

Overall Impressions

When the future generations of Villanova Wildcats fans look at this score, "back in '09", it will likely be viewed as an afterthought. A 13-point victory over a Patriot League team in the first round - in a #3/#14 game - at home. Utterly inconsequential. They would likely be far more interested in the subsequent games, such as the first NCAA tournament game against UCLA since the 1971 national title game, or any additional rounds the Wildcats might have reached.

However I would be hard pressed to name another 13-point victory, in which it appeared - deep into the second half, no less - that the game might be alarmingly out of reach. The Wildcats trailed by 14 points, one minute into the second half. While that was the literal peak of the American lead, the Eagles were not simply leading, but dominating play through the "third quarter", so to speak, in NBA terms.

American still led Villanova, 55-47, at the 11:21 mark. Since play had resumed, the American lead had never dipped below six. The Eagles had all of the momentum. Their lead, which was 10 at halftime, had fluctuated from a high of 14, to a low of six, over the first nine minutes of the second half.

It is very difficult to describe the level of despair, that was throbbing through the Villanova community, during the first three-quarters of this innocuous-in-the-record-books 13-point victory. I was already sketching out the unpleasant parallels between the 1995 triple-overtime disaster to Old Dominion in the first round, and wondering what the consequences would be for the program with a loss.

And for much of the second half, the Wildcats were in serious, serious trouble, of being handed a first-round exit in Philadelphia. Of course, I had hopes that Villanova would rally and eke out a victory, but I also considered this very realistic scenario: AU might suddenly turn on the jets and blow the Wildcats all the way back to the Main Line, dishing them a double-digit defeat on their quasi-home floor in one of the most stunning upsets in modern NCAA tournament history.

That having been said, the scoreboard showed that the Wildcats did in fact defeat the Eagles tonight - and that they did so by a solid 13-point margin. The Wildcats atoned for their first 29 minutes of dreadful play, by suddenly reviving in the last 11 minutes and flattening AU.

American won the first 29 minutes, 55-47. The Wildcats won the last 11 minutes, 33-12.

In fact, they won the final 11 minutes so decisively, that there was even garbage time to be had. (And Jay Wright really should have put Jason Colenda and Frank Tchuisi into the game at garbage time. American coach Jeff Jones refused to surrender and kept fouling, and there were ample stoppages in which they could have gotten on to the floor. Antonio Pena, a member of the regular rotation, didn't even get into the game at all.)

So what fueled this victory?

The Eagles had shredded Villanova's defense in the first half, ripping off 41 points to Villanova's 34. American's dominance reached its apex when Brian Gilmore hit a finger-roll layup with 11:21 to play, pushing its lead back to 55-47, after the teams had emerged from the under-12 CBS timeout. So at that point, AU was also winning the second half, 14-13. They were having no trouble whatsoever scoring. The Eagles were scoring at will.

But over the ensuing six-and-a-half minutes, Villanova scored 15 unanswered points, transforming the game from a staggering upset to a routine #3/#14 victory. I remembered thinking that American had seemed stuck on 55 for a long time. The Wildcats clamped down on them and shut them out until the 4:30 mark, when Garrison Carr's jump shot cut 'Nova's lead to 62-57. In other words, the Wildcats held the Eagles without a point for nearly seven minutes. Now, it's not unheard of for a team to have long droughts; conversely, for a team that plays defense like Villanova, it's not unheard of to impose those droughts on opponents.

However, what was unusual, was the fact that American went from scoring at will, to not scoring at all, for a long
time. So long, in fact, that the Eagles not only fell off cruise control, they were taken out of the game completely. Carr's shot got the Eagles within five of the Wildcats, but they never drew any closer.

Carr drove for a layup, to pull the Eagles once more within five, at 66-61 - with 3:10 to play. But the Eagles didn't score any more points until the final minute. After that layup, Villanova had crushed any hope of a rally, by rattling off an 8-0 run, putting the game far out of reach. The Wildcats led 74-61 with 58 seconds left, before the Eagles managed to score again (a layup by Jordan Nichols - the Maryland high school opponent of Reynolds, Anderson, and Cunningham - with 49 seconds to go). This is why I am perplexed as to why the bench players couldn't get into a game that the Wildcats led by 11 points in the final minute.

Keep checking back for more updates... There will be (at minimum) a second post on the American game, later on Friday, and eventually, some material on the second-round game with UCLA.

Go Wildcats!


Anonymous said...

Very nice summary as always.

1. I was concerned but not too worried at end of half. As Eagles went up by 14 early in second half, I began to frown. American missed a 3-point shot at that point -- and 'Cats came down to get a bucket. Instead of being down 17, and perhaps collapsing, they're only down 12.

2. In each of the last three games (perhaps earlier too), we've had one terrible half. We let Marquette back in the game in NY. Louisville blew us out in second half. Now Marquette lights us up in first half. We won't get away with this against higher seeds. Need to put two good halves together.

3. People seem to be shutting down Scottie and making someone else beat them.

4. Dwayne and Dante have stepped up to the challenge repeatedly. Who will be next?

5. Great fun to be in second game; be nice to be playing next weekend, too.


Anonymous said...

Of course I meant American lights us up.


Villanova Viewpoint Publisher said...

Hello, Seamus-

Great to hear from you, as a long-time reader... thanks for the compliment. If you'd like to subscribe so that you'd be updated automatically, just bounce me an e-mail at

and I'll put you on the list...

(Note - that's a different e-mail address from before - please use this new one...)

Your points, one-by-one:

1. I agree that the sequence you cited was a potentially large momentum swing...

Looking at the play-by-play, the sequence which you described was when Brian Gilmore missed a triple with AU leading 45-32 with 17:53 to play. Cunningham rebounded the ball, and on the Wildcats' possession, he made a layup off an assist from Shane Clark to make it 45-34...

2. I agree that it's extraordinarily dangerous to have entirely bad halves at this level. It would be a matter of concern in December, and certainly one in March. We were fortunate that we got away with it against Marquette and American, and we're not likely to face an opponent who'd let us escape again...

Luck plays a role, too. Had the Eagles hit one or two extra threes early in the second half, our morale might have collapsed, the crowd would have stayed silent and we'd be doing the aftermath of another 1995...

3. Reynolds - yes, he's become the focus of opposing defenses. I think one reason is size - because he's so small, if you zero in your defense on him it's hard for him to take uncontested shots.

4. Cunningham and Anderson HAVE stepped up - especially Anderson. Had Anderson not had the best game of his career yesterday, we'd be gone. Speculating as to who will be next - I'll say Redding... experience counts for a lot...

5. It is great to still be around for the second round, and it would be very enjoyable to have another Sweet 16. But as you can imagine, we went through so many NITs in the early part of the 21st century, that I'm very grateful just to be in the field and participate in the excitement...

Go Wildcats!