The one positive thing Villanova can take from their heartbreaking, last second loss at Rutgers on Wednesday night? It’s only February.
Down 10 with under 3 minutes to play, Rutgers made a barrage of unlikely shots, capped by a long 4-point play by Johnathan Mitchell with .8 seconds left on the clock to upset the 10th ranked Wildcats 77-76, in front of a raucous crowd at the RAC.
A free throw by Isiah Armwood with 2:52 left in the game pushed Villanova’s lead to 10 points. Then it all fell apart.
Two free throws by Rutgers, then a steal and a 3, then another steal, and another 3. With just over a minute gone by, Villanova’s once comfortable lead was down to 2. Even after all that, it seemed Villanova finally had it in hand when James Bell hit a 3 with 11 seconds left to push the lead back to 5.
Not so fast, as Rutger’s James Beatty quickly banked in a three with 7 seconds left in the game. As Corey Fisher was fouled and only hit one of two free throws, the stage was set for Mitchell. Compounding his miss at the line, Fisher reached in and fouled Mitchell as he was going up for the three.
It was a sour ending for Fisher who may have played his best game of the year. The senior guard finished the game with 23 points, 10 assists, 5 steals, and only 3 turnovers. Unfortunately, it will be the last 7 seconds that will be ingrained in people’s minds instead of the first 39 minutes and 53 seconds, where Fisher was brilliant.
The Senior leader offered no excuses after the game saying, “I was hurt. I’m a captain on this team and we should have won the game. I made a mistake.”
As the Rutgers students stormed the court, Villanova could only watch and be thankful that it wasn’t March. There will be another game. There is still work to be done. Just so happens that work to be done and that next game will be against Big East leading and 4th ranked Pittsburgh on Saturday.
With only 1 game separating 4th place and 11th place in the Big East, every game matters. Especially with the top 4 seeds getting the coveted two-day bye in the Big East tournament.
Of the seven remaining conference games, the Wildcats will play Pitt twice, at Notre Dame, and home games against Syracuse and the suddenly revamped Red Storm of St. Johns. So the road will not be easy for Villanova to secure a high seed in the dog fight that is the Big East Tournament.
These last 7 games and then the Conference tournament could tell the story on how the rest of Villanova’s season will go. Last year they lost 5 of their final 7 and limped into the NCAA tournament, only to be pushed to the brink by 15th seed Robert Morris (whose coach incidentally is now coaching Rutgers), and then ultimately bounced from the bracket by St. Mary’s in the second round.
What a better way to start a final push into March than with a home game against 4th ranked Pittsburgh on the court where you haven’t lost in 46 games. College Gameday will be on campus and the nation (and the tournament committee) will be watching.
Pitt will most likely be without leading scorer Ashton Gibbs who is out for a week or two with a left knee injury.
A lot will be learned about this Villanova team after Saturday. Can they bounce back and play well after such a heartbreaking loss? Pitt is considered to be the class of the best conference in the nation. It will be a true test for two teams who both have plans on making late runs in March.
About the Author
Written by Brendan Kelly
Hoops junkie. Graduated from Temple U with a broadcasting and communications degree looking to get into a career in sports, more specifically basketball.