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No. 21 Villanova bounces back, shuts down Maryland

11/18/2023, 1:15am EST
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

A little extra insight never hurt. Unless you’re Maryland.

With former Terrapin Hakim Hart now on the Villanova roster, the Wildcats took advantage of his inside knowledge in advance of their Gavitt Games matchup.

“Scout Hak was really good for us,” Villanova coach Kyle Neptune said. 

“I was able to help a lot because obviously I played there and they run some of the similar plays, out-of-bounds and regular plays,” Hart said. “So I was able to help a lot.”

Whether it was due to Hart’s help, Villanova’s familiarity with Maryland head coach Kevin Willard, a struggling Terps squad or some combination of the above, the Wildcats put together their best half of the season, using that to spring them to a 57-40 win at the Finneran Pavilion on Friday night.

Justin Moore (above, on Monday) contributed eight points to Villanova's win. (Photo: Gavin Bethell/CoBL)

It was one of the best Villanova defensive outings of the last quarter-century, helped out by a Maryland offense that couldn’t buy a bucket. The Terps (1-3) shot just 12-of-50 (24.0%) overall and 5-of-26 (19.2%) from 3-point range, hitting just four shots in the first half. They were 5-for-36 (13.8%) with 12:50 to play.

According to basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy, Maryland’s effective field-goal percentage of 29.0% was the sixth-lowest for the Wildcats since he began tracking such numbers in 1998-99. There was a point late in the second half when they actually were under the 24.5eFG% they held South Florida to in a 68-40 win in 2013, but the Terps hit a few shots in the final two minutes. 

Until the last three minutes, it seemed like they might flirt with the 34 points they held Penn State to on Feb. 4, 1979. Instead, they settled with the fewest points scored off them since that game against South Florida more than 10 years ago.

“I loved our effort and intensity, especially to start the game,” Neptune said. “I loved our attention to detail, but I think we can still get a lot better.”

In bouncing back from a loss at Penn on Monday, Villanova absolutely dominated Maryland from the outset, scoring the first seven points of the game and never looking back in the ninth and final year that the Big East and Big Ten will play the Gavitt Games. The lead was 14 seven minutes in, grew to 20 less than six minutes later, was 24 at the break. 

By the time Maryland hit its second shot of the second half, with 12:13 remaining, Villanova’s advantage was larger than 30. It was a fitting performance considering one of the program’s recent greats, Brooklyn Nets star Mikal Bridges, was courtside, his jersey retired at halftime

“I think you’ve got to give Villanova all the credit, they came out and jumped us,” Maryland coach Kevin Willard said. “Two quick 3s really got us on our heels, they got after us, they’re coming off a tough loss, really played well, and we just didn’t respond.”

Tyler Burton led Villanova (3-1) with 15 points, the 6-foot-7 grad transfer from Richmond going 4-of-5 from the floor (2-3 3PT, 5-6 FT) with six rebounds in 20 minutes of action. Another grad transfer, TJ Bamba (Washington State), was the only other Wildcat in double figures, with 11. 

Hart played 24 minutes off the bench, the Roman Catholic product contributing seven points and two rebounds against his former team. 

“Personally it was kind of hard for me,” he admitted, “but I stayed focused. Play 40 minutes of Villanova basketball, that’s my main focus, but it (was) kind of hard.”

The Wildcats didn’t need offense to win this one. Which is good, because they turned it over 17 times, limiting them to just 40 shots in a slowed-down contest (59 possessions). They were a decent 18-of-40 (45.0%) overall, but made just 26.3% of their second-half shots (5-of-19). 

The starters all had plus/minus ratings of +18 or more; other than reserve forward Lance Ware, everybody on the bench was -3 or worse. 

“I love the first 20,” Neptune said. “Just proud of the way our guys competed. And we’re still a work in progress, we can still get a lot better.”

Villanova plays its next three games in the Bahamas, beginning its stint at the Battle 4 Atlantis on Wednesday against Texas Tech (3-0). The Wildcats have had plenty of early-season tournament success in the last decade, but went 0-3 at the Phil Knight Invitational last season.

Neptune dismissed any of that as meaningful. The second-year head coach has taken Jay Wright’s hyper-fixation on process above all else to another level, never once wavering from his stances that almost everything is irrelevant except the next game and the constant strive for improvement. Storylines be damned. 

“Our thought process is, we have another game coming up, we’ve got to focus on that game,” he said. “Doesn’t matter what happened last year, doesn’t really matter what happened this game besides the fact that we want to get better for it.”

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