Dante Cunningham’s 2 clutch free throws may have sealed the win for Nova, but it was 22 forced turnovers that made the difference for the Wildcats. 10 seconds left and a chance to win the game Pitt went to its bread and butter end-game play (see the win vs. Duke). But without the playmaking ability of Levance Fields and against the quick hands and feet of Villanova, that play ended the same way the entire game played out for Pittsburgh. With a turnover.
This was a great bounce back win for Nova coming off a disappointing loss to DePaul in their Big East opener. The Blue Demons shot 51% in that game, and it was apparent from the start of today’s game that Jay Wright had his team pick up the defensive intensity against Pitt. Full-court pressing and trapping most of the game combined with a depleted back-court for the Panthers resulted in 11 steals and 22 points off turnovers for Nova.
That suffocating defense and 39-7 bench scoring difference was just enough for Villanova to overcome a poor shooting day (33% from the field & 27% from behind the arc) and a sub-par game from leading scorer Scottie Reynolds (1-6 fgs 4pts). With the game on the line, Reynolds did make a great pass that ultimately lead to Cunningham‘s game-winning free throws. Freshman Malcolm Grant picked up the scoring load with a career high 22 points on 6-12 from the field while suffering leg cramps late.
“He’s incredible. He’s a freshman but he’s the heart and soul of our team,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said about Grant. “I try to diminish that but I can’t. He’s really energized our team since he’s gotten here.”
Pittsburgh got another monster game inside from freshman DeJuan Blair (12pts & 15 boards) who gave the Panthers their last lead of the game with a fall-away shot after being bumped in the lane.
This was the Wildcats 5th straight victory over Pitt in the last 5 meetings at the Pavilion. Hopefully Nova, currently ranked 16th in the country, won’t drop far in the rankings, having redeemed themselves after the DePaul loss against a tough, 13th-ranked conference foe.
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