Freshman leads No. 15 Villanova
NEWARK, N.J. (AP)—James Bell made a name for himself Tuesday night. The reserve freshman guard more than doubled his season high with 21 points as No. 15 Villanova beat Seton Hall 60-57 in one of those games that won’t be rerun as a classic anytime soon.
“A road win in the Big East. That’s the nicest thing I can say about that game,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said after his team snapped a two-game losing streak with one of those performances that left a lot of people shaking their heads. “The Pitt game was one of the ugliest games ever (a 57-54 loss on Saturday) and so was this game and the common denominator was us. We just had to gut it out and our young guys played great.”
One of the young guys played the best game of a freshman season that started late because of a leg surgery.
The 6-foot-5 Bell, whose previous high was 10 points against Delaware and who scored a total of 31 points this season, became the offensive star for the Wildcats (20-6, 8-5), who committed 22 turnovers, three over their season high and double their season average.
The Wildcats were without second-leading scorer Corey Stokes, who has missed two games with a turf toe injury, and there wasn’t a whole of offense coming from anyone but Bell.
“He didn’t play all summer and all fall,” Wright said. “He couldn’t do anything. We shut him down in June and he couldn’t do anything until December, so he’s been working his way back. He’s been playing great in practice but he gets tired very quickly. He really arrived tonight.”
Bell had stress fractures in both tibias. He tried rest from June until September but the doctors decided on surgery. Rods were inserted into both legs on Sept. 8 to help the bones. He started practicing with his team in December. He saved them on Feb. 15.
“I didn’t play for 6 months straight so it took some time,” Bell said of his return. “College basketball is a fast game. I was really frustrated but I knew I was doing everything for the right reason.”
He was extremely modest about his 7-for-9 shooting performance that included making 4 of 6 from 3-point range.
“I got an opportunity and it’s not that I stepped up but I was put in the right position to make plays,” he said. “These are shots we always take in our offense and they just happened to fall.”
Jeremy Hazell had 25 points to lead the Pirates (11-15, 5-9) but he missed two shots in the final 13 seconds, the second a 3-point attempt to tie with 3 seconds to play.
“They stepped up on the drive big. I tried to get it over them. I thought it was going down but it just rimmed off,” he said of his drive that could have tied the game with 13 seconds left. “The 3-pointer I thought that was going down but I left it a little short.”
Villanova beat Seton Hall for the ninth straight time, a streak that dates to 2004, and this was the 100th meeting of the schools and the Wildcats own a 63-37 advantage.
Corey Fisher had 12 points for Villanova and Antonio Pena had 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Villanova turned the ball almost every way possible, from passes off teammates’ legs to passes that reached the stands to offensive fouls and even two 35-second shot clock violations.
“We’re playing more forwards and (starting guards) Maalik (Wayns) and Fish got in foul trouble and they were sitting for long periods and Seton Hall has great quickness,” Wright said in explaining the turnovers. “They got rusty on the bench.”
The Wildcats somehow managed to overcome all those mistakes and Bell, who came in averaging 1.8 points, was how.
Jordan Theodore hit a jumper with 10:35 to play that brought Seton Hall within 45-43. Bell hit the first of his two second-half 3s to give the Wildcats a five-point lead, but Hazell hit one of his four 3s to make it 48-46.
Bell’s next 3 gave the Wildcats a 54-46 lead with 6:38 to go. Over the next 3:10 Villanova committed five turnovers, including four in as many possessions.
Bell made three free throws with 5:34 left to give Villanova a 57-48 lead. Seton Hall took advantage of the Wildcats’ miscues to go on a 7-0 run and was within 57-55 with 2:14 to play.
After Bell’s layup and two free throws by Herb Pope of Seton Hall, it was again a 2-point game with 1:12 to play.
With 40 seconds left Villanova turned it over again, this time when Fisher dribbled the ball off his leg right in front of Wright.
Hazell missed a drive after that turnover and Antonio Pena made one of two free throws with 13 seconds left.
Hazell’s 3 to tie was off the rim and the Pirates lost for the third time in four games.
“James Bell killed us. He hit some tough shots,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. “We’re just not getting a break, we’re not getting a bounce.”
Hazell finished 9 of 23 from the field and he made four of 17 3-point attempts. The Pirates, who came into the game last in the Big East in 3-point shooting at 29 percent, were 4 of 26 from beyond the arc.
“We’re shooting too many 3s at home and I think that is one of our biggest issues,” Willard said.
Herb Pope, who had seven points in a foul-plagued 29 minutes for the Pirates, couldn’t get over that they couldn’t beat a team that committed 22 turnovers.
“They gave us a chance to steal the game and we gave them a chance to steal it right back,” he said.