Game Notes: Villanova at DePaul
The Villanova Wildcats claw their way to victory.
by Quinn Peterson
Fresh off their first Big East win in their last ___ attempts, DePaul looked to ride that momentum into Saturday’s matinee matchup against 10th-ranked Villanova.
It almost worked. The Wildcats, driven by the will of Corey Fisher, absorbed the Blue Demons’ best shot, though, escaping Allstate Arena with a 77-75 victory.
“We played well enough to win. I still don’t think we played our very best, but obviously we played some pretty good basketball,” said DePaul coach Oliver Purnell.
“This [is] the Big East,” said Fisher. “Night out, night in, you’re playing against a great team. It don’t matter about records. It’s great teams in this league and you’re gonna have to grind out if you want to win.”
Nova opened up the game strong, jumping out to a 9-2 lead behind Fisher and center Mouphtaou Yarou. But the Blue Demons kept their poise. Hanging their hat on stout defense — as they have all season — DePaul stayed in the game, and a Jeremiah Kelly 3 brought the Demons within four. Kelly 3′s and DePaul shooting would be a dominant theme throughout the rest of the afternoon.
Kelly’s next trey-piece tied things at 14, and one from Jimmy Drew on the next possession gave DePaul their first lead of the day, 17-14. The sharpshooting was contagious, as Moses Morgan, Cleveland Melvin and Tony Freeland all got in on the action, energizing their fans in one of the best turnouts of the year.
On the flip-side, Nova went cold from the field. With Fisher in foul trouble and Corey Stokes still out with an injured toe, the Wildcats shot just 10-30 in the first half.
“One of the challenges for us has been playing without Corey Stokes,” said Villanova head coach Jay Wright. “Offensively and defensively, we’ve done a pretty good job, you know. This is the first team to really hurt us from three.
“We just haven’t had any flow offensively, but our defense rebounding has been able to keep us in games.”
They also struggled with DePaul full-court pressure at times, had seven first half turnovers and were forced to use three timeouts in the first 20 minutes.
Wright burned one of those TOs after an 11-0 DePaul run. Out of it came a refocused Wildcats group, especially looking to get the basket. Even still, the Blue Demons continued their steady pace, went into the half with a 27-24 lead.
Kelly picked up where he left off, starting the second half with another 3-pointer. Trading baskets at first, it soon became the Corey Fisher show. Fisher, in particular, was hoopin! After a five point first half, he dropped 29 in the second and OT. It started with a layup at the 15:59 mark, and over a six-minute stretch, he tallied 15 of 16 Wildcat points.
Fisher finished with 34 points and did everything — loose balls, rebounds, steals, deflections, you name it. Stepping up to singlehandedly carry his team, he was the embodiment of senior leadership.
“I was just trying to make plays on defense,” said Fisher. “We wasn’t worried too much about offense, we were just trying to play hard. In the huddle coach kept telling us to grind it out, and Me, Maalik, Tone [Antonio Pena], and Stokes — everybody, the whole team — was just saying get stops.
“Just trying to read the defense If I have the shot, [take] the shot, get in the lane and kick out. Maalik made tough plays, Mouph [Yarou] made key rebounds, everybody just stepped up.”
Though his heroics kept Nova in the game, it was not enough to completely overtake the Blue Demons, who continued to get great play from Kelly, Morgan and Melvin.
Kelly — who had 20 in the second half and OT himself on 6-for-11 shooting from three, — and Morgan led the way from the perimeter, Melvin held it down inside. Corey Fisher gave Villanova their first lead since midway through the first half, but DePaul quickly reclaimed and maintained it.
Nova guard Maalik Wayns had one of his rougher shooting outings of the season, but shook it off just in time to put the Wildcats back over the hump, scoring four straight to give them a one point lead.
“In practice everyday I’m playing against Corey Fisher, so you get in a game like that, guys pressuring me and guys up in me, I just think about practice everyday. I just try to be strong with the ball and make plays for my teammates,” said Wayns.
With just under a minute to play, another Kelly jumper tied things up at 57. Fisher responded with a J of his own. After missing a three, DePaul forced a turnover and called timeout. Drawing up an inbounds play with Kelly coming off a flare screen, Brandon Young hit him and he nailed it. DePaul up 60-59, 20 ticks to play.
Nova of course put the ball in Fisher’s hands. Pump-faking to get his man in the air — an NBA move — he drew the contact, but didn’t get the benefit of the call and missed the 3-point attempt. Forced to foul, Moses Morgan knocked two free throws with 12 seconds on the clock to give DePaul a 62-59 lead.
After calling timeout, the Wildcats went to the man who had been had been making it happen all day: Fisher. Letting the ball roll to almost half-court, he drained a three from straight away to notch things at 62 with five seconds to play.
“I was just trying to get in the lane, probably kick out and look for that shot, but I came off the screen and I know the big didn’t want to let me drive so he gave me space and I just raised up and hit the shot.”
The “big” he was referring to was Melvin.
“Our inexperience certainly showed there at the end,” said Purnell. “We went to what we call ’3-Point Open’, which is a switch-out on everything, crosses, handoffs, you name it, because they gotta have a three. Cleve [Melvin] hung back just a little bit.”
A Kelly prayer was no good. To overtime we went.
Continuing to trade baskets, Villanova struck first on two Wayns free throws. Pushing their lead to five, Kelly hit a three to keep his squad in the game. He would foul out with 25 points — a career-high — including going 7-for-13 from deep.
Fisher was 3-for-4 from the line to seal the deal for the Wildcats, though a Young layup cut final deficit to two. Heck of a game.
“Guys fought hard, they’re playing better. It’s a tough one to take and they’re hurting in the locker room, but that’s the way we want it to be in a situation like this moving forward,” Purnell reflected.
In addition to Fisher’s career high, Wayns added 17. The Wildcats also won the glass, out-rebounding DePaul 50 to 36. Yarou led the way in that category, pulling down 15 boards to go along with 12 points.
Freshmen Melvin and Morgan finished with 16 and 15, respectively, for the Blue Demons who finished with 13 made threes.