The Explorers seems to give Villanvoa fits every single season. La Salle plays so tough, despite finishing near the bottom of the A-10 year after year, and nothing changed this time around. Villanova trailed as much as 11 points in the first half last night, before going on a 6-0 run to finish out the half down just 5. Villanova rallied down 5 with under a minute left in regulation, sending the game into overtime. In overtime, the Wildcats controlled the period and finally sent the Explorers home with a 76-69 loss.
The story of the game was fouls. Villanova attempted a whopping 41 free throws (making 34 of them), which allowed them to stay in the game. Dominic Cheek was 12-14 from the line, while Maalik Wayns connected on all 10 of his attempts. The Junior duo combined for 40 points (18 and 22 respectively), as the Wildcats improved to 2-0.
This game overall was pretty hard to watch, as both teams shot under 40%. Villanova made just 4 of 23 three point attempts and committed 20 turnovers. The game cleaned up a bit in the second half, as both teams started putting the ball in the basket more often. Here are the five things I was thinking about after the Villanova win.
1. Dom Cheek and James Bell are the keys to this team. Yes, Maalik Wayns is the unquestioned leader of the team, but these two players are great defenders and are out there on the floor for pretty much the entire game. Cheek played 41 of the 45 minutes, while Bell was in for 38. Although both thrive on defense, they are counted upon to deliver on offense. They must improve their three point shooting, but they are most effective in the mid-range game or cutting towards the hoop. Overall, positive signs by both of these big guards.
2. Mouphtaou Yarou needs the ball more. Mouph didn't play in overtime, but he played an outstanding game. He needs to limit his turnovers (4 last night), but he showed his improved offensive touch. He only took 7 shots, which disturbs me, because this guy should be getting the ball 12 times a game minimum. He has a solid post game and he even displayed the jumper he's been working on over the summer. He scored 10 and brought down 14 boards, which is his second double-double in as many games. Mouph can improve slightly on defense, by keeping his hands up and by maintaining his balance on pump fakes; however, the future is bright for the Junior.
3. JayVaughn Pinkston needs to slow down. I have a feeling that Pinkston is just too amped up, after missing all of last season. He missed a wide-open dunk, the front end of a 1-and-1, and committed 3 turnovers in 20 minutes. He's got a big body, but he moves so quickly that he can create matchup problems regardless who is guarding him. Pinkston simply needs to relax. Stop settling for jumpers, go to the hoop and go up strong. He's trying to do too much and is struggling. There was one instance when Pinkston was standing near the baseline at the three-point line, where he received a pass from Maalik Wayns, as a defender rushed out to contest a possible three. Pinkston had Bell wide-open near the top of the key if he just swung the ball around, but he decided to dribble around the defender and he coughed up the ball. Just a fundamental basketball play. He's got a ton of potential, so there is no doubt he'll play better, but he's still rusty.
4. Darrun Hilliard is a smart player. Down 2 with under a minute to play, Hilliard stole an inbounds pass and drove towards the basket for the game-tying layup. Hilliard just seems to contribute heavily to the team with both big and small plays. I love the way he's playing defense and how he is not a tentative player. If he sees a lane, he'll go straight to the hoop. One sign that I look for in Freshman is maturity on the court and smart decision making. Hilliard has passed the test so far, though there is a long way to go. There was one play in overtime where Wayns had the ball stolen from him and La Salle was on a fastbreak. Hilliard was the only defender left and he contested the shot by just running in front of the player. The Wildcats were up 7 at that point and many times you will see players try and block that layup. It often ends in a foul or even an And-1, which stops the clock and allows the Explorers to score without wasting time. It was a good defensive contest without fouling. I look forward to seeing him play more and more this season.
5. Maalik Wayns worked hard on his shot this off-season. Even though he made just 5 of 16 shots, turned the ball over 3 times, and committed four fouls, Maalik Wayns was the best player on the court. He made a number of big-time plays, such as his three pointer with about a minute to go in regulation to pull within 3. The previous play was a putback slam by LaSalle, so the momentum was with the Explorers. Additionally, Maalik finally found ways to get to the line. He drove to the hoop at will at times and made La Salle defenders try and make plays, which usually ended with Wayns sinking a couple of free throws. Wayns also corralled 9 rebounds to go with his 4 assists. I'd like to see him run more of a traditional pick and roll with Mouph considering both players have improved their jumpers, but that will come with time. We're watching a star in the making at Nova and I can confidently say he's the most talented player to wear Villanova across his chest since the Foye/Lowry days. (Yes, he's more skilled than Scottie)