It was a classic Big East heavyweight fight.
There was one punch thrown, 3 technicals, and 50 free throws taken.
Their first meeting of the season, Villanova and Pittsburgh spent the first half feeling each other out.
The second half brought jab after jab, both figuratively and literally, with Pittsburgh finally delivering the knockout blows to beat Villanova 57-54 on Saturday night at the Pavilion.
It was the first time the Wildcats have lost in their on-campus arena since January 6th, 2007.
With ESPN’s College Gameday on campus all day, there was a capacity crowd in the building for the matchup between the Big East’s preseason top two.
Stars for both teams were ruled out prior to the game, and it showed.
Pitt’s Ashton Gibbs has been hurt for a couple weeks with a knee injury and Villanova’s Corey Stokes was ruled out right before the game with turf toe.
Both teams clearly missed their top shooters as they combined to shoot 37% from the floor including 4-25 from three point territory. However, it was the Panthers who were able to make enough plays in the second half to come away with the victory.
In the end, it was two Philly guys who were the difference for Pittsburgh.
With their leading scorer out, it was Roman Catholic alum Brad Wanamaker that stepped up in his place and hit big shot after big shot on his way to a game high 21 points. Wanamaker used a variety of moves and a sweet mid range game that included a tough foul line jumper and the foul that pushed the Panther’s lead back to 6 with 2:47 left in the game after Villanova had just come back from down 11 to cut it to 3.
Chester’s Nasir Robinson also chipped in with 15 points and a team high 7 rebounds. Robinson also went to the free throw line 14 times, making 9 of them, and seemed to get every big rebound, or was involved in every big possession down the stretch.
“The Philly guys played like Philly guys,” said Pitt’s coach Jamie Dixon after the game.
It was some homecoming for the two Philly products who seemingly slipped through the cracks in Philadelphia and left the area to play for Coach Dixon in Pittsburgh.
“We missed on both guys, no doubt,” said Villanova coach Jay Wright. “They proved it tonight.”
Perhaps Robinson’s biggest contribution of the night may have been just taking a punch and turning the other cheek. With Villanova up 3 and with momentum early in the second half, Isiah Armwood went to put his arm around teammate Mouph Yarou and punched Robinson in the face.
Replays were inconclusive as if Armwood really meant to punch Robinson in the face, or if it was incidental. A punch in the face would be an automatic ejection. Nevertheless the referees went to the video and compromised, giving a technical to Armwood and awarding 2 free throws and the ball to Pitt.
The air was taken out of the arena seemingly and Pitt went on a 19-6 run to take a 10 point lead with 8 minutes left.
With second leading scorer Stokes looking on in street clothes, fellow Senior Corey Fisher tried to will his team to victory.
Fisher came out firing hitting 3 of his first 4 shots, but picked up 2 fouls in the first half and only played less than 3 minutes of the final 10 minutes of the first half.
Fisher tried to lead his team in the second half, but was hampered by the foul trouble, including a double technical in the second half after being dragged to the floor on a fast break layup. Add that to a questionable offensive foul call and Villanova’s leading scorer was fouled with just under 5 to go.
With their two Senior leading scorers on the bench, Villanova’s offense was stagnant. Maalik Wayns, starting in place of Stokes, was unable to pickup the slack for his back court mates and the Wildcats got zero production off the bench from sophomore Dom Cheek and freshman James Bell who combined for 4 points on 2-11 shooting in 34 minutes of action.
The Wildcat’s desperately needed some help at the guard position and Cheeks looked lost at times. The promising sophomore could not find his touch and did little else to help his team down the stretch.
The same could be said for Bell, though he is just starting to get consistent minutes in Jay Wright’s rotation, and fouled out in only 18 minutes of action.
The lone bright spot for the Wildcats was the play of Mouph Yarou. Against the big, bad Panther front line, Yarou battled all night and ended with a team high 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 blocks.
The Wildcats surprisingly outrebounded the Panthers 36-28, but could not capitalize.
Despite the lack of Stokes and Fisher, Villanova still had a chance at the end. Down 6 with a minute left, Antonio Pena, who had twisted his ankle only a couple minutes earlier, hit a three to cut the lead in half.
A quick turnover by Pitt gave Villanova the ball and a chance to tie with 30 seconds left. However, Dom Cheek’s three was off and after an offensive rebound, Maalik Wayns nailed a three after the buzzer that sealed Villanova’s fate.
The loss spoiled a great day on Villanova’s campus.
With Gameday in the building all day long, Villanova students who camped out the night before for the free ticket got a treat as Villanova retired Randy Foye’s #2 jersey early in the day.
Later on that night, Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard was in attendance sitting courtside for the game.
Fortunately for Villanova they will get the closest thing to a break you can get in the Big East with their next two games being at Seton Hall, which just dismissed two seniors from the team, and at Depaul, who is winless in the conference.
They could not come at a better time, with the Wildcats reeling and the Big East tournament getting closer and closer.
Right now Villanova finds themselves tied for sixth in the conference, on the outside looking in on the 2 day bye for the Big East tournament that only the top 4 seeds are awarded.
The important thing for Villanova in their final 6 games will be to get healthy and start playing at a more consistent level heading into March. It will help to get Stokes back at some point, but right now everyone must play better and certain players must step up if this team is going to be anything to deal with come tournament time.
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.