PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Villanova will not be playing in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in six seasons.
The Wildcats, the second-seeded team in the South Regional, had needed overtime to get past 15th-seeded Robert Morris in Thursday’s opener. Saturday afternoon at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, they were eliminated by 10th-seeded Saint Mary’s College in the second round, 75-68.
Coming off a Final Four appearance a year ago, this was probably not quite as early as most of Nova Nation envisioned the season ending. Especially when the Wildcats won 20 of their first 21 and got to No. 2 in the polls. But they lost five of their last seven coming into the Madness. So maybe another long run was just asking a little too much from this group, which did have six first-year players.
Still, when the Selection Committee makes you the two …
“It was a challenge all year,” said coach Jay Wright, who’d been 4-0 in this round and 8-1 when he was the higher seed. “It was a first time for us. And we’ve talked about that a lot with our team, that there’s so much expectation but a lot of the guys on this team really haven’t earned that. And there was also a lot of praise put on this team that we really hadn’t earned. Inside our team, I’m proud of them. They stuck together, to the bitter end.
“Our journey was not an easy one. It was a tough one. I thought we were playing hard at the end. We probably played the hardest tonight that we played all year. That’s what we want to do, be the best we can be at the end of the year. But we understand the expectations were much higher for this team. And we have to take what comes with that. We do. That’s part of being an athlete these days. It’s part of being a team at this level that gets this type of attention.”
The Wildcats (25-8) had trailed at the half, 38-31, against a team that had just won its first NCAA game in 41 years, over seventh-seeded Richmond. With 91/2 minutes left, they took their first lead since 11-9, at 53-51. And it went back and forth from there.
Villanova would lead again at 56-55 and 61-59, with a little over five minutes to go. But they would score only more one field goal, at the 31/2-minute mark, before the final 12 seconds. Still, Corey Fisher tied it at 65 with two free throws at 1:35. On the ensuing possession, Mickey McConnell banked in a 3-pointer from the left wing. The Wildcats missed a two at the other end, McConnell needed no glass to make a pair of foul shots at 40 seconds, the Wildcats turned it over and freshman Matthew Dellavedova, one of three Australian starters on the Gaels, pretty much ended things by adding two more from the line at 23.3.
St. Mary’s, which had to replace six of its top eight scorers from last season, got 32 points from fifth-year senior center Omar Samhan, who shot 13-for-16. But his last basket came with seven minutes remaining, and his last points were at 5:05. Against Richmond, he had 29. McConnell went 5-for-10, 3-for-6, for 15 points. Dellavedova added 14. Both played 40 minutes. McConnell didn’t have a turnover.
The Wildcats got 15 points from Corey Stokes and 10 from Wayns, in 18 energetic minutes off the bench. The freshman from Roman Catholic will be a large part of the future. But top scorer Scottie Reynolds had only 8, on 2-for-11 shooting. Fisher, their second-leading scorer, went 3-for-13 for 9. Freshman center Mouphtaou Yarou, who’d come up big against Robert Morris, had 4 points and as many boards in 17 minutes.
Reynolds finishes his career as the second-leading scorer in program history, 21 behind Kerry Kittles. He’d gone 2-for-15 on Thursday, but 15-for-16 from the line. This time, he was 3-for-3. After shooting 50 percent from the field in the Big East, he went 13-for-52, 6-for-28 from the arc, in his final four games.
“It hurts, especially when it’s your last game,” he said. “That’s the way it goes. It’s hard to accept that the season’s over, when you know how longer it could have gone.
“I hope the young guys remember the image (of the final scoreboard), and how much it takes to get to this point, and how much more it takes to get to the point we got last year. There’s a fine line. It lets everyone know just how special last year was.”
The Gaels will play either third seed Baylor or 11th seed Old Dominion Friday in Houston.
“I probably had some of the best looks I had all season,” said Reynolds. “I don’t know. It’s just one of those couple of games. I never had that all season. There’s no shame in that.”
St. Mary’s shot 24-for-48, 7-for-19 from deep and 20-for-26 at the line. Villanova went 25-for-69, also 7-for-19 and 11-for-11. They had seven turnovers, which matched a season low set way back in early January.
In the end, it wasn’t quite enough. They’ll have a longer offseason than expected to think about it.