By Sean Kennedy
Villanova 74, St. John’s 67
When you sit atop your conference and rank top-ten in the nation, opponents are going to give you their best effort each and every game. Villanova took the Red Storm’s best shot, pulling away late to come away with a victory at Madison Square Garden. The contest was back and forth the entire way until an 8-0 run powered by some energetic play by Ryan Arcidiacono (13 points) late in the second half gave Nova their largest lead of the game to that point at 7. The Johnnies hung over but a steal and bucket on the other end by Josh Hart with 30 seconds remaining sealed the victory for the Wildcats.
Villanova was uncharacteristically sloppy in early going, with 10 first half turnovers, largely off some unforced lazy passes, leading to easy points for the Red Storm. Although the Cats didn’t shoot well, they made up for it by going right at the teeth of the #1 blocks team in the nation, earning plenty of trips to the foul line (31-40 on the game). JayVaughn Pinkston was his usual savvy force on the interior, with 15 points and 10 rebounds and Daniel Ochefu had perhaps his best game of the season. Ochefu (10 points, 7 rebounds) had 2 huge weak side blocks early in the game, and also had his fiercest dunk of the side powering through the lane in the second half. Overall, it was another fine effort for Villanova against a rugged Red Storm team; they’ll head back home for a game against DePaul next weekend.
Drexel 93, Northeastern 88 (2OT)
Down three opening day starters heading into their game against a scrappy Northeastern team, the Dragons could have phoned this game in and chalked up the loss to being shorthanded. Instead, Drexel’s two remaining starters, Chris Fouch and Frantz Massenat, had their best collective effort of the season. Fouch scored a career-high 31 points, including 16 after regulation, and Massenat nearly missed a triple-double with a career-high 27 points, 12 rebounds, and 8 assists. However, even with the efforts from the two seniors, Northeastern didn’t make things easy.
With Drexel up three and regulation winding down, the Huskies’ Demetrius Pollard hit a three pointer at the buzzer to send the game to overtime. Tavon Allen (who had 18 points to that point) badly sprained his ankle on the play, literally adding injury to insult for the already injury-ravaged Dragons. Then, in overtime, Pollard converted a three-point play to once again tie the game with 30 seconds left. Pollard fouled out in double overtime after accruing 19 points, preventing him from extending the game a third time. With Allen, Abif, and Ruffin unlikely to play Tuesday (and Damion Lee out for the season), the immediate future looks bleak for Drexel, but for one night at least, they can celebrate as winners.
Memphis 79, Temple 69
Temple actually received some good news prior to this game as point guard Will Cummings was cleared to play after suffering a mild concussion last game, and Mark Williams was able to return to the court from his ankle injury. Still, even somewhat back to full strength, the Owls seemed to run out of gas in the second half, as Memphis broke open a tight game to cruise to victory in the final minutes. At one point, the broadcast pointed out a play after a Tigers steal where all five Memphis players were across half court with only DeCosey in the picture for Temple. He and Pepper each played a full 40 minutes and had to shoulder too much of the burden with a limited bench and many of the Owls frontcourt in foul trouble.
Shaq Goodwin was too much to handle for that undersized and undermanned Temple frontcourt, as the energetic Memphis big man dominated the offensive boards on his way to 23 points and 11 rebounds (8 offensive). As a whole, Memphis out-rebounded the Owls by 17, negating the Temple advantage on the perimeter. Pepper (game-high 24 points, 4 threes) and DeCosey (18 points, 3 threes) exploited the 2-3 Memphis zone and did everything possible to pull the upset, but Memphis was too big and too deep for the Owls to deal with for a full 40 minutes. Temple will go in search of its first American conference win at Cincinnati in a few days.
Pennsylvania 77, Princeton 74
Entering play riding a 7-game losing streak and facing a strong Princeton team in their Ivy League opener, no one gave the Quakers much chance of coming away with a win. But after nearly blowing another big second-half lead, Penn made enough plays down the stretch to topple the Tigers and turn conventional wisdom on its head. The Quakers received a big boost in the form of Darien Nelson-Henry, who returned to action after missing four games with a concussion. His efforts (17 points and 8 rebounds), along with those of Fran Dougherty (17 points and 12 rebounds) were a big reason Penn was able to dominate the boards, holding a 42-25 edge over Princeton.
Still, 18 Penn turnovers played a big role in a late 8-0 Princeton run that tied the game up at 71. Minutes later, Princeton’s Will Barrett connected on a game-tying three with 22 seconds left and it looked as though it would be more heartbreak for the Quakers. However, Miles Jackson-Cartwright was fouled driving to the hoop, making both free throws, and a final Princeton alley-oop attempt went awry, securing the unexpected victory for the Quakers. As poorly as they began the season, the Quakers now found themselves 1-0 in Ivy League play and can tell themselves that it’s a new season from here on out.
Saint Joseph’s 84, George Mason 80
For the first time since the 2009-10 season, St. Joe’s played a basketball game without Ronald Roberts, Jr. taking part, as the senior missed the first game of his career due to back spasms. While that’s not exactly the ideal scenario for a team looking to bounce back after a stomach-punch defeat to UMass, the rest of the Hawks were up to the challenge against a resilient George Mason team. A 10-0 run early in the second half turned the game around for St. Joe’s, who later made their free throws down the stretch to ice the game and record the team’s first A-10 victory of the campaign.
Each of the other main players for the Hawks stepped up their game with Roberts sidelined, led by Halil Kanacevic, who had his second career 20-point game with a game-high 23. Langston Galloway also had 20 points and DeAndre Bembry finished with 17 points on 7-11 shooting. Papa Ndao, starting for the injured Roberts, filled in admirably with a career-high 13 points on a perfect 3-3 mark from behind the arc. It was the type of well-balanced team effort we’ve come to expect this season from the Hawks. They were able to have a short memory in regard to their recent setback and St. Joe’s has to feel good about getting back to .500 in conference play after their difficult slate to start the A-10 season.
2:30 PM: La Salle (8-6, 1-0 A-10) @ Duquesne (8-5, 1-0 A-10) – NBC Sports Network
Fresh off their most impressive win of the season against a well-rounded George Washington team, the Explorers will look to remain undefeated in conference play when they head to Pittsburgh to take on Duquesne. The Dukes are one of the NCAA’s most unbalanced teams, with a strong offense but a horrific defense that allows opponents to shoot 38% from three. Sam Mills and Tyreek Duren will have plenty of open looks behind the arc and will look to build off their strong shooting performance against GW.
Still, La Salle will have to be on their game defensively against a well-rounded efficient offensive attack for Duquesne that is top-30 nationally in assists at 16 per game and top-20 in turnovers at only 10 an outing. Forwards Ovie Soko (19 points, 9 rebounds per game) and Dominique McKoy (10 and 7 while leading the nation with 70.3% shooting) provide plenty of bulk and energy on the interior for opposing teams to deal with. But the Dukes also have a couple perimeter threats with Tra’Vaughn White (13 points, 41% 3PT) and Micah Mason (61.8% from three which would lead the nation but he missed 5 games earlier this year and doesn’t qualify yet). Duquesne is going to score and if the Explorers hit their shots, they can stay with them, but if not, it will be a long afternoon.