Villanova’s NCAA tournament woes continue.
For the fourth straight season, the Wildcats have failed to make it beyond the Round of 32. This time they lost as a No. 1 seed – the first top seed to get bounced – in a 71-68 loss to No. 8 seed N.C. State.
[DraftKings: Free $25,000 March Madness Fantasy Basketball Contest]
Villanova struggled mightily from the field, shooting just 31 percent overall and 32 percent from three (9-of-28) while missing plenty of shots from point-blank range. Meanwhile, the Wolfpack used tough interior play and pesky defense – both on the interior and perimeter – to build and ultimately hold a lead. Trevor Lacey and Anthony Barber led the way for N.C. State with 17 and 13 points respectively while forwards Lennard Freeman (11 points, 12 rebounds) and Abdul-Malik Abu (13 points, 12 rebounds) were tenacious on the glass and each registered double-doubles.
On the other side, the Wildcats hit just 8-of-28 shots in the first half, but clung to only a four-point half-time deficit. The Wolfpack would make them pay in the second half and ran out to a lead that reached as high as 12 points.
But whenever it looked like the Wildcats, who came into the contest with a sparkling 33-2 record, would finally regain the advantage, the Wolfpack responded.
Villanova cut the lead down to three on a three-point play from JayVaughn Pinkston with 2:26 to go, but the Wolfpack countered with a clutch fall-away jumper from Lacey and an acrobatic layup from Barber to extend the lead back to seven.
[Photos: March sadness - Faces of defeat]
After a Barber free throw, Nova’s Darrun Hilliard, who led all scorers with 27, responded with clutch back-to-back threes to cut it down to two. It wouldn’t be enough – even after N.C. State threw the ball away on its ensuing possession.
On the Wildcats’ next possession, down two, Dylan Ennis bricked an open three, ultimately sealing Villanova’s disappointing fate.
Though Hilliard had a big game and Pinkston chipped in with 13 points, Villanova’s other stars came up small. Josh Hart, Ryan Arcidiacono and Ennis all average double figures but combined for just 15 points on the night while shooting 0-of-11 from three. Additionally, big man Daniel Ochefu was held to only four points.
The biggest discrepancy was on the glass. As the Wildcats bricked three after three, the Wolfpack outrebounded them 45-32 and hauled in 13 offensive rebounds – six of which came from Abu.
If the Wolfpack can continue to get that physical inside play from Freeman and Abu, coupled with the steady play of Barber and Lacey, the Wolfpack could be a tough out moving forward. The Wolfpack will play the winner of Sunday’s showdown between No. 4 Louisville and No. 5 Northern Iowa in the Sweet 16 in Syracuse.
- - - - - - -