Villanova is the reigning national champion for a reason, and going into a raucous Mackey Arena and holding off the potential Big Ten champions four days into the season is a heck of a way to remind us of that very fact.
Josh Hart finished with 24 points and Darryl Reynolds added 12 points, eight boards and two blocks as No. 3 Villanova knocked off No. 15 Purdue, 79-76, in one of the best games and the best environments we will see during non-conference play. Villanova surged to a 56-45 lead midway through the second half and looked like they were getting ready to run away with the game, but the Boilermakers went to their bread-and-butter down the stretch: Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan.
Haas and Swanigan were limited in the first half as Villanova was able to get the twin towers into early foul trouble, but they took over down the stretch. Haas scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half and Swanigan added 20 points, eight boards and four assists. Purdue twice got within a single point in the final minute, but both times, point guard Jalen Brunson responded with a pair of free throws to extend Villanova’s cushion.
This game was fascinating because of the matchups. Villanova has one of the biggest and most versatile group of perimeter players in the country, but what they have in ‘positionless’ basketball players they lack in true big men. Reynolds, a 6-foot-8 senior that played limited minutes throughout his career, is their only true low-post presence, while the likes of Hart, Kris Jenkins and Eric Paschal will provide minutes against bigger defenders.
Purdue, on the other hand, has one of the biggest and most potent front lines in the country, but they don’t have great point guard play and have been inconsistent shooting the ball from the perimeter.
In the first half, Villanova won the chess match, as the Wildcats were routinely able to take advantage of Purdue’s bigs in ball-screen actions. Hart alone was responsible for drawing the fouls that got Haas planted on the bench for the majority of the first half.
In the second half, Purdue slightly altered the way that they covered ball-screens, and it worked. As Purdue started getting stops, they were able to play with Swanigan and Haas on the floor together, which created their lethal high-low actions. Villanova slowly-but-surely got themselves into pretty serious foul trouble trying to front Haas in the post, and by the end of the game, Reynolds was forced to essentially concede a layup to Haas on every possession; he couldn’t risk picking up his fifth foul trying to front and he had no chance of stopping the 7-foot-2, 290 pound Haas from scoring two feet from the rim.
Luckily for Villanova, there aren’t too many teams with bigs as good as Haas and Swanigan.
And luckily for Purdue, there aren’t too many teams with players as versatile as Hart and Jenkins.
If this game proved anything, it’s that both of these teams are very, very good. Villanova is, once again, a title contender while Purdue isn’t ready to let Indiana run away with all the hype in the Big Ten.