Don’t be fooled by the final score. Villanova was in deep trouble tonight at the Wachovia Center.
But for the second straight March, the Wildcats came back from a double-digit second-half deficit to advance into the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Last year, they were down 18 to Clemson and came all the way back. But that was different. They were a 12 seed. No one would have killed them had they not gotten it done.
This time, they were a 3, playing their fourth game of the season in this building. But with 19 minutes left, they trailed No. 14 American by 14.
Shades of 1995, when they lost a 3-14 game to Old Dominion in triple overtime. But all things considered, this would have been worse.
Not to worry. Still down by 10 with 13 minutes left, they scored 17 of the next 19 points. And the Eagles (24-8), champions of the Patriot League, would never get closer than five after that.
The Wildcats (27-7) wound up winning by 80-67. They’ll next get either No. 6 UCLA or No. 3 Virginia Commonwealth on Saturday afternoon.
This team, which already tied the school record for most regular-season victories with 25, are now one win away from matching the overall program standard for a season.
American, a senior-dominated squad, scored the final nine points of the first half to go up 41-31. At that point its starting backcourt had 25 points, or 22 more than Villanova’s. The Wildcats had 11 turnovers, leading to 20 Eagle points. Not good numbers.
But when the Wildcats had to, they finally started getting the ball to the rim. Eventually, that got them to the foul line, where they shoot 74 percent. At the other end, they increased the pressure along the perimeter, and the Eagles just didn’t have much left in the tank coming down the stretch.
Dante Cunningham, who shot 9-for-10, finished with 25 points. As did Dwayne Anderson, who went 4-for-5 from the arc. Corey Fisher was the only other Wildcat in double digits, with 11. Villanova had 11 more second-half rebounds.
Garrison Carr had 22 for American. Derrick Mercer added 17, and Brian Gilmore 16. The Eagles were 8-for-15 from three before intermission, 2-for-16 in the last 20 minutes.