Villanova sophomore Saddiq Bey (above, in December) set a new career high with 33 points as Villanova topped Georgetown on Saturday. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Kevin Callahan (@CP_KCallahan)
PHILADELPHIA - As known and acknowledged by all winning college coaches, which Jay Wright overwhelmingly qualifies, you first win on the recruiting trail.
Yes, Villanova first crushed Georgetown by stealing Saddiq Bey from the Hoyas’ fertile Washington, D.C-Maryland backyard in 2018 before winning again on Saturday afternoon with the blossoming 6-8 sophomore scoring a career-best 33 points in a satisfying 80-66 exacta cashing ticket.
“Saddiq Bey played his butt off,” Hoyas coach Patrick Ewing said after the Big East Conference game at the Wells Fargo Center. “I knew he improved his shooting, but didn’t know he would shoot 8-for-10 (3-pointers).”
Bey, who attended the same Maryland high school (Sidwell Friends) as Nova great Josh Hart, didn’t commit to Villanova until June of his senior year after being released from signing with North Carolina State. He said he didn’t feel like he had something to prove to Georgetown, which still casts an attractive recruiting shadow over the Mid-Atlantic region, especially with Ewing’s return to his alma mater, even though he played like he sure did.
“Not at all,” Bey said, somewhat convincingly. “I just think of every opponent as the same.”
Georgetown, which is down to a seven-man rotation, obviously could’ve have used Bey, who was ranked No. 129 in the 247 Composite rankings coming out of high school.
Bey was coming off an 11-point effort on Tuesday against Creighton, which was three points below his average. And, in his three previous games before the win in Omaha, Bey scored in single digits every game.
To his credit, instead of seeing ghosts, Bey responded to his coach’s constant message of having a short memory and a fearless attacking approach.
“We talk about shoot them up and sleep in the streets,” Wright said. “That’s what it is, Saddiq is a good shooter and he’s going through one of those periods where you have to sleep in the streets and you can’t be afraid of it. You have to say, ‘I might have to sleep in the streets again, but I’m not going to stop shooting,’ and that’s what I think happened.”
Bey, who was named to the Wooden Award Midseason 25 to Watch List, topped his career-high of 27 in December against Penn.
“My teammate got me the ball and I have to have confidence,” Bey said. ”We obviously shoot every day so you have to believe in your ability.”
Back in mid-May of 2018, Bey was granted his release from North Carolina State after the Wolfpack secured Kentucky transfer Sacha Killeya-Jones. Back on the market, Bey took recruiting visits to Atlantic Coast Conference schools Wake Forest, Boston College, Vanderbilt. However, he was reportedly denied a waiver to play in ACC by N.C. State.
So Bey, who is second on the Cats in scoring behind guard Collin Gillespie’s 15 points a game, became Villanova’s gain and is emerging into a needed first-option with Gillespie since the Cats lost their two leading scorers from last year – seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall.
“He’s learning to be a go-to guy,” Wright said. “When you are a go-to guy, you can’t be afraid to have that night when you look really bad and everyone says you lost because you didn’t make a shot. And you can’t be afraid of that. He definitely wasn’t afraid today and that is how you have good games like that.”
Gillespie, who was named the Big 5 Player of the Week coming off a 24-point effort at Creighton on 8-10 shooting from the field, scored just three points in the first half against the Hoyas, so Bey’s early production was welcomed.
Wearing the Cats’ old-school white uniforms with gold trim, Bey connected on 5-of-7 threes for 19 points in the first half to give the Cats a 39-36 lead at the break. As a team, the Wildcats needed to shoot 10-for-17 on 3-pointers in the first half as defensively they were struggling on switches against the Hoyas, which came into the game leading the Big East in scoring.
“I think every game you have the same approach, defend and rebound and try to be consistent every day,” Bey said. “You can have a different player scoring every, it is whatever the team needs to be honest.
“Last game it was Colin making shots, but every game it is different.”
There weren’t really overt signs against Creighton that Bey was primed to shake off his recent scoring slump, although he buried a big bucket down the stretch.
“I saw him choosing to drive in the Creighton game more and passing up shots,” Wright said. “Even in the Creighton game we had to tell him to keep shooting and he had a huge three at the end of that game.”
Against the undermanned Hoyas, Bey drained another 3-pointer in the first 30 seconds of the second half for a 44-36 lead, forcing Ewing to call a quick time out.
“Definitely we want to have a quick start in the second half,” Gillespie said. “We wanted to get stops right away and it turned into easy buckets for us.”
Wright has started the same lineup for the ninth straight game, going big with four forwards –– Bey, 6-7 Jermaine Samuels, 6-9 Cole Swider and 6-9 Jeremiah Robinson-Earl –– along with the 6-3 Gillespie at point
This look is quite different than the three-guard lineups of recent years, but Jalen Brunson, Ryan Arcidiacono, Donte DIvincenzo and Hart are all in the NBA now. So, as winning coaches do – just like win on the recruitment battlefield, Wright adapted to his personnel.
“We’re getting better,” Wright said. “We’ve been spoiled here and we’ve had really good teams and we know what that is and we know how far we are from being there.
“We are not making excuses or being afraid, it takes a lot of time to get there. These guys have to put the time in and the work in.”
Wright, who received a resounding ovation during an early time out prompted by the public address announcer’s acknowledgement that the Nova coach was recently named the Associated Press Coach of the Decade, assessed when asked that Butler looked like they might have a little separation from the rest of the league.
No worry, the Big East tourney is still two months away.
“I think we’ve grown a lot since the beginning of the year, but we have a lot of room to grow and get better,” Gillespie said. “I think every day, the more we practice and the more we play with each other, we will continue to get better.
“But as long as we go out and play hard and defend and rebound that will take care of itself.”
And, of course, continue to first win on the recruiting trail.