Villanova nears another Big 5 title after winning ‘Holy War’

Villanova Wildcats Phil Booth College Basketball

It was a Big 5 “3-for-all” like you’ve never seen before. The result, well, that you’ve definitely seen. Villanova won the “Holy War” over bitter rival Saint Joseph’s 70-58 on Saturday and with it their 25th consecutive Big 5 victory.

Jay Wright’s Wildcats can wrap up their sixth straight Big 5 crown against Penn at the Palestra on Tuesday. Prior to this, the 1969-74 Quakers held the record with five, though they had to share the 1972 title with Temple.

“We have to keep it going and shouldn’t shut down the Big 5,” said Hawks’ longtime coach, Phil Martelli, whose club went on a late 16-0 run to close within 62-56, before ‘Nova regrouped to put it away. 

“They’ve certainly been a tremendous representative for Philadelphia basketball and Jay is going to in the Hall of Fame,” added Martelli. “But the Big 12 hasn’t shut down because Kansas has won 12 in a row.”

While it won’t show in the standings, in truth this past week has been a test for the Wildcats, who totally dominated City Series play last season—including a 94-53 destruction of St. Joe’s on Hawk Hill. However, with his four leading scorers gone to the NBA, some thought a new team in the city might finally break their streak this season.

After being tested by both La Salle and Temple, Saturday was the Hawks’ chance. They failed, mainly because St. Joe threw up so many bricks over the first 32 minutes you would’ve thought they were trying to build a new wing to Villanova’s Finneran Pavilion.

Only a late spurt enabled SJU, which missed 17 of its first 19 treys before going 4-for-6, to finish 20-for-58 (39 percent).

Villanova, on the other hand, seemed to treat any shot inside the 3-point line as a bad shot. With St. Joe packed inside, ‘Nova was more than content to bomb away from long distance, confident they could knock down enough to spell the difference.

Of their 63 shots, a whopping 43 of them—68.3 percent– came from behind the line, with 13 going down, 30.2 percent. 

“We don’t go in choosing how many we want to take,” said Wright, whose No. 21 ranked club has now won six-straight since back-to-back home losses to Michigan and Furman.

“It’s just what they give us. Sometimes teams decide they aren’t going to give us threes. Then you’ve got to get to the rim or the foul line,” he explained.

“Today [Saturday] they decided we’re going to give them threes and not going to let them get to the glass or the rim. They did a great job of it and it worked.”

Well, it only worked a little bit. After hanging close most of the first half, before a late push sent the Wildcats to the locker room up 38-28, Villanova took command.

The defending national champs got solid bench production from transfer student Joe Cremo (12 points), sophomore Jermaine Samuels (11) and freshman Cole Swider (8), which helped build the spread as high as 62-40 before the Hawks made their move.

“That’s the story of our season, how we can develop our young guys and count Joe Cremo because he is a new guy,” said Wright, after Phil Booth’s 3-pointer and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree’s three-point play put an end to the Hawks’ comeback hopes. 

“The young players are the future of our program. We had so many different lineups earlier in the season we came out very unorganized. Now we’re starting to get organized.”

Meanwhile, the Hawks (6-6), who had to go without leading scorer Charlie Brown (sprained ankle) and sixth man Pierfrancesco Oliva (concussion) simply didn’t have the firepower to beat Villanova for the first time since 2011. Lamarr Kimble (22 points) and Taylor Funk (10 points) tried to bring them back, but Martelli was more distraught about all the missed layups and free throws.

“A missed layup is like getting hit with a bat and when you give up a layup, that hurts your aggressiveness,” said Martelli, who hopes to be at full strength when the Hawks take on another Final Four participant, Loyola of Chicago in a couple of weeks. 

“We put the ball in front of the rim enough. It’s the finishing at the basket,” he said. “I thought we did a good job challenging their shooters. But they play with confidence, which bodes well for them.”

Therefore, only one question remains: Can the Quakers keep them from win No. 26?

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