Villanova Wildcats Escape the Palestra with a Win over La Salle

Dec 6, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; La Salle Explorers guard Jordan Price (21) shoots past Villanova Wildcats forward Eric Paschall (4) during the first half at Palestra. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 6, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; La Salle Explorers guard Jordan Price (21) shoots past Villanova Wildcats forward Eric Paschall (4) during the first half at Palestra. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

The Villanova Wildcats came to the Palestra to face the La Salle Explorers and  won a tightly contested game 89-79

The Villanova Wildcats (9-0) came into this one having won 14 straight overall (counting their NCAA Tournament run) likely expecting this to be a cakewalk against the Explorers (4-3). Once the game began, it was clear that they would be getting anything but that. The Explorers came out of the gate strong pressuring the Villanova Wildcats and slowing the pace to keep the game in their comfort zone. It was clear that they weren’t scared off by Nova rising to the number one ranking in the country.

La Salle hung tight with Villanova during the first half keeping it to a 36-40 scoreline. It was truly a team effort with no Explorers reaching double digits and seven guys getting on the score sheet. Their leading scorer in the half was BJ Johnson with nine but it was the four-point run by Pookie Powell to close the half that got the Explorers their momentum in this one.

It was easy to see that the Villanova didn’t expect La Salle to come out the gate with such intensity as they looked lost at the beginning of the game, missing shots that they were missing shots that they would normally make. They couldn’t deal with the Explorer defense and by the time Villanova got back to their normal game, La Salle gained the confidence that they could hang with the big boys.

Anything we didn’t do well was because of La Salle’s gameplan and that’s a credit to them – Jay Wright

By the half, the Villanova Wildcats got their swagger back and were able to put the clamps down on defense. They entered the half with the game’s highest scorer in Eric Paschall with 12 but it was the defensive contributions of Jalen Brunson that proved key. Josh Hart also joined Paschall in double digits with 10 at the half. It was a standard Big Five game at the break you can assume that Jay Wright reminded his veterans of what can happen during the half.

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Coming out of the break, it was more of the same from these two squads as they traded defensive blows with little to show for it on the offensive side. At the under 15 media timeout, the score was 44 – 42 Villanova and it was still anyone’s game.

The Villanova Wildcats kicked into another gear, pulling away after the under 15 timeout thanks to a 9-0 run lasting over five minutes. While it didn’t break the Explorers, it put the game back into a territory that Villanova was comfortable with. But, La Salle refused to go away, hitting back to back threes to close within seven and cause another timeout from the Wildcats.

"“The reason for their excellence is their intangibles, they scrap for every loose ball and they are relentless. We were close to matching it but they’re a great team and that’s what great teams do” – Coach G when asked if La Salle was able to match Nova’s intangibles."

Villanova did what top teams should do and kept doing just enough to keep the Explorers away but this isn’t last year’s La Salle team that finished 9-22. Pookie Powell took the gem into his own hands and began to hit clutch threes on his way to being La Salle’s leading scorer in the game with 27 off the bench (he was also the game high scorer).

"“I’m just trying to help my team win”, Powell said, “coach told me to be aggressive before the game and that’s just what I did.”"

Down the stretch, this game turned into an instant classic as these two Big Five teams traded blows back and forth. La Salle closed the gap to four with one minute remaining but it was as close as they would draw. Powell did what he could to keep the Explorers in it but ultimately, Villanova escaped with a 10 point win to win their 17th straight Big Five matchup and 15th straight overall.

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La Salle should leave the Palestra with their heads held high after hanging with the number one team in the nation for the entire 40 minutes. It’s a performance that they can build on but they must improve their free throw shooting in his post-game presser, Coach Giannini said, “we need to make our free throws”

Next up for the Explorers is a matchup with Georgetown in the Hoophall Miami Invitational. For the Wildcats it will be a home game vs number 23 Notre Dame.