No. 11 Villanova beats Providence 97-80
VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP)—Villanova coach Jay Wright started walkthrough with a pop quiz for senior forward Dwayne Anderson: What made Thursday night unique?
“Nothing,” Anderson said. “Next game.”
Nothing unique for these Wildcats? Hardly.
Scottie Reynolds scored 23 points to help No. 11 Villanova finish a perfect season at the Pavilion and earn a double-bye in the Big East tournament with a 97-80 victory over Providence.
Anderson’s focused, robotic answer was exactly what Wright hoped to hear.
“We don’t think about it, we don’t talk about it,” Wright said of the milestones. “We really worked hard at not thinking about it and we really count on the seniors for that.”
Reynolds hit three clutch 3s for the Wildcats (25-6, 13-5) in the second half that stretched the lead into double digits and pushed back a Providence team that badly needed this win to strengthen its NCAA tournament chances.
The Wildcats will get two extra days’ rest, not opening play in the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden until Thursday.
“We judge ourselves by where we are in the regular season and in the Big East,” Wright said. “What happens in the Big East tournament, what happens in the NCAA tournament, there’s so many matchups and things that affect that.”
The Wildcats, picked fifth in the Big East coaches’ preseason poll, tied a program record with 25 regular-season victories. They didn’t lose consecutive games all season and are all but assured of their fifth straight NCAA tournament.
“It’s not the record, it’s how they did it,” Wright said. “It’s keeping that concentration level.”
Weyinmi Efejuku was sensational in stretches for the Friars (18-12, 10-8), finishing with 29 points on 9-for-16 shooting. He scored 12 straight points for them in the second half and kept the upset bid alive.
Instead, the Wildcats survived to win their 28th straight game at their on-campus home.
“We feel like we have a long way to go to be the best team we can be,” Reynolds said.
The loss doesn’t necessarily cripple Providence’s at-large chances, but it will need to win at least a game or two in New York to feel good about getting picked for the field of 65.
“Every time you turn the radio on or turn the TV on, everyone’s got their brackets,” first-year Providence coach Keno Davis said. “Half the people have us in, half the people have us out. Unless we win the Big East tournament, we’ll be sitting there sweating it out.”
Anderson scored 19 points, Dante Cunningham shook off a sluggish 4-for-13 start to score 19, and Reggie Redding had a career-high 11 assists for Villanova.
The Wildcats had season highs in assists (26) and steals (19) to improve to 13-0 at the Pavilion this season.
They had to work to win this one, and didn’t turn it into a rout until the final minutes. The Wildcats kept up the pressure against the Friars, forced turnovers and converted them into easy baskets.
The turning point came midway through the half when Corey Fisher hit a 3, then scooped the loose ball off a quick turnover and dished to Reynolds for the easy basket and a 63-51 lead.
Reynolds hit his three 3s from there, his final one making it 76-65. They went on a late 13-0 run—highlighted by a 3 by Stokes—that had Villanova playing the deep reserves in the final minute. Wright pumped his fist as he sprinted off the court.
Efejuku made his first five shots and scored 12 points in the first 4 minutes of the game. Then he missed his final four shots of the half.
Davis could use three more nights like this one from Efejuku to have any kind of shot at winning the conference tournament.
“We’re going to the Big East tournament with the idea of winning,” Davis said. “If you don’t win it, you want to leave your best effort on the court.”
After a rare spell of sloppy play late in the first half, Wright was livid and lit into his team during a timeout. Reynolds and Shane Clark hit consecutive 3s coming out of it to make it a 12-point lead, and Stokes hit two 3s in the final minutes to give the Wildcats a 40-34 halftime lead.