Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
It was an afternoon to remember for Lior Garzon.
Forget the career high in points, or the first win of the season, or the fact that it came in a big way against Big 5 rival Saint Joseph’s. Those were nice, sure, but not what brought the biggest smile to the Villanova sophomore’s face. No, it was having her mother in the crowd, all the way from Ra’anana, Israel.
Lior Garzon (above) set a new career high as Villanova downed St. Joe's. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“She surprised me last Monday,” Garzon said. “She called me like ‘Oh, hi...I think I’m coming to your game next week, what do you think?’ and I was like “of course...I really miss you.”
Ruth Garzon certainly picked the right game to see her daughter play in college for the first time. St. Joe’s didn’t have any answer for Lior Garzon as the 6-foot-1 forward dominated, scoring 26 points to lead ‘Nova to a 55-39 win at Hagan Arena.
Garzon easily topped her previous career high of 19 points, set in January at Butler, while also setting new personal standard in minutes played (36), shots made (eight) and attempted (15), free throws made (nine) and attempted (10), and tying her career best with three assists.
To be able to look up and see her mom in the stands made it all so much better.
“It was really nice to see her in the fans, it’s never happened,” she said. “With COVID last year, she couldn’t come — so yeah, it was really exciting to me.”
Ra’anana is a city of about 75,000 people located just north of Tel Aviv, on the country’s Western edge, just a few minutes’ drive from the Mediterranean Sea. Ga
Growing up, Garzon said, playing basketball in the United States wasn’t something she had considered, but got into the idea thanks to fellow Israeli ballplayer Dor Saar, who’s finishing up her college career at Middle Tennessee State.
It was former Villanova coach Harry Peretta who initially reached out to Garzon, though she stayed committed through the coaching change to Denise Dillon, now in her second year on the Wildcat sideline. Garzon didn’t get to the Main Line until the fall semester last year, a little behind her teammates and classmates, but still averaged 8.8 points and 2.9 rebounds as a freshman, starting one game.
“I (made) a good decision to come here,” she said. “I get all I need to be the best player I can be.”
“I give Lior a lot of credit, she basically made a decision to come to the States, to come to Villanova, to stick with it,” Dillon said. “With me being hired and then COVID coming into play, she had a lot of outs, but she made the decision.”
“I always feel (when) an individual makes a decision, they’re going to thrive, they’re going to just really grow.”
Through three games, Garzon is Villanova’s leading scorer (15.7 ppg), shooting 15-of-31 (48.4%) overall and 7-of-15 (46.7%) from the 3-point arc.
She was the only double-figure scorer in the whole contest on Saturday, as Villanova held St. Joe’s to 25% from the floor (13-of-52). After two tough losses to start the year, and with Villanova’s best player on the sideline, Garzona’s effort and output came at a crucial time.
Villanova's Maddy Siegrist (above) was on the sidelines with her right hand/wrist in a brace. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The Wildcats came to Hagan off an 88-67 defeat at No. 3 Maryland, though it was the 59-42 season-opening home defeat against Princeton that was a real eye-opener. With the trip to St. Joe’s the first of three Big 5 contests in a row for ‘Nova — they’ll play at Penn on Monday and host Temple in a week — the Wildcats needed to snap out of their cold spell.
On top of that, junior forward and defending Big 5 Player of the Year Maddy Siegrist was in sweats on Saturday, her right hand/wrist in a splint. Dillon said that Siegrist originally hurt it “a few weeks back” and then re-aggravated it more recently, and they’re awaiting the results of imaging.
Whether Siegrist is on the court or not, Garzon knows she’s quickly become an integral part of Villanova’s success this year and beyond, and it’s her time to show it. On a team with only one senior/graduate student, Brianna Herlily — who had 12 rebounds on Saturday — the underclassmen need to step up.
“I think now I have a big role in the offense, I feel like I have more of a role to lead this team,” she said. “We’re a young team, we have five freshmen, so I feel like this is my big step for this year, to lead this team with Brianna and Maddy.”
Hawks’ men can’t slow down Monmouth
A visit from Monmouth in the opening game of Saturday’s doubleheader seemed like a golden opportunity for St. Joe’s to feel good about the opening stretch to its season. Instead, an 87-75 win by the visitors exposed more question marks for Billy Lange’s squad.
St. Joe’s only strong stretch came early, a 19-3 span that helped turn an early 7-0 deficit into a 23-12 lead with 8:54 left in the first half. But Monmouth found its footing, closing the gap five minutes later and taking a 37-34 lead into the break.
The visiting Hawks never trailed again. St. Joe’s hung in for most of it, trailing by four with 7:55 left, before an 11-3 Monmouth run put the game out of reach, keeping the advantage above double digits for the final four-plus minutes.
No matter which Monmouth (3-1) player had the ball, St. Joe’s (2-2) couldn’t find a way to stop them. Fifth-year guard Marcus McClary set a new career best with 24 points on 11-of-17 shooting, while Shavar Reynolds also set a new high-water mark with 25 (7-16 FG, 9-9 FT). The Hawks’ typical leading scorers, George Papas (18 points) and Walker Miller (15 points, 12 rebounds), had strong outings as well.
St. Joe’s was led by sophomore guard Jordan Hall, who was 7-15 from the floor (4-8 3PT, 6-9 FT) for a career-high 24 points, with 10 rebounds and five assists for his second double-double of the season. Fifth-year senior Taylor Funk added 16 points on 4-11 shooting (4-10 3PT), and freshman Erik Reynolds II had 13 points for the third game in a row.
Despite a significant size advantage across the board, St. Joe’s wasn’t able to physically impose its will on Monmouth, losing both the rebound battle (43-34) and getting outscored in the paint (36-14). They were just 9-of-24 (37.5%) from within the arc, offsetting a solid day (13-of-37, 35.1%) from deep.
“They out-rebounded us on the numbers, 43-to-34, but when you shoot 36% from the game, you’re going to miss a lot of shots,” Lange said. “Maybe if we’re not going to be a team that doesn’t make a lot of shots, we have to look at crashing the offensive glass a little bit better.
“Monmouth (getting) 10 offensive rebounds, that part concerns me more than the overall [rebounding] number,” he added.
St. Joe’s will spend the Thanksgiving break in California, playing Southern Cal (3-0) on Thursday at 9:30 PM EST in the first of two games in the Wooden Legacy Classic. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.