The Owls just missed an opportunity to upset another Top 25 team as they lost, 78-74, to No. 8 Villanova at The Pavilion, snapping a six-game winning streak that included a 68-65 win over then-No. 9 Georgetown.
Junior guards Juan Fernandez and Ramone Moore, who had 12 and 13 first half points respectively, spurred the Owls a slim 40-39 lead at halftime. They were unable to hold that lead as the Wildcats came out in the second half and took the lead and at one point held a 10-point cushion with a 57-47 score favoring Villanova with 12 minutes, 42 seconds left in the game.
But right as things began to look bleak, the Owls would hold the Wildcats scoreless for three minutes and take a 60-57 lead. Most of the scoring in the second half came from Fernandez and senior forward Lavoy Allen, who lead the team in scoring with 21 points. But the Wildcats’ defense tightened up and would regain the lead and not look back.
“I think they toughened up defensively toward the end, they didn’t let us get any kind of dribble penetration, I thought we made some poor decisions with the ball, but for the most part I thought their defense was very good at the end of the game,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “They pressured us and we didn’t handle it as well as we needed to.”
“We weren’t really prepared against that full court press and their half-court defense,” Fernandez added.
Even though the Wildcats’ defense gave them the win, four Owls finished in double figures. After Allen, Fernandez had 20 points, Moore had 17 and junior forward Scootie Randall had 11 to round out a foursome that did most of the heavy lifting for the Owls. The Owls only got five points off the bench. The team’s starting center, junior Michael Eric, had some foul trouble and would finish with zero points and four rebounds in 12 minutes of action.
“We would like to have Mike out there more, but we can’t have him in foul trouble,” Dunphy said. “I thought [sophomore forward Rahlir Jefferson] did a pretty good job for the most part, he didn’t have a lot of numbers on his score line, but he changed the game and made nice passes in transition against their pressure,”
Villanova senior guard Corey Stokes and sophomore guard Maalik Wayns led the Wildcats with 24 and 21 points, respectively.
The 9-3 Owls will kickoff Atlantic Ten Conference play on Jan. 5 on the road against Fordham before returning home to the Liacouras Center on Jan. 9 to face Saint Louis.
“We need to get used to playing against this kind of team that pressures hard and plays tough,” Fernandez said. “Villanova is a good team and is a good challenge to see where we are as a team and if we want to be good at the end of the season and get to the tournament, we have to beat teams like Villanova.”
Brian Dzenis can be reached at email@example.com.