Some may tend to downplay Villanova’s comeback from a 19-point deficit for a victory over Providence, contending that the Wildcats were on their home court in a favorable environment against a team that hasn’t won a conference game on the road in forever.
But the Wildcats and coach Jay Wright don’t care. Any positive sign that can provide a spark for the remainder of this disappointing season will be accepted.
Wright found a lot of encouraging signs in Tuesday night’s 74-72 victory over the Friars, who lost their 21st consecutive Big East away game.
The one he spoke of the most was the presence of three freshmen – JayVaughn Pinkston, Ty Johnson and Achraf Yacoubou – playing important minutes during the comeback.
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Pinkston scored 28 points, including the last nine, to go with 14 rebounds to emerge as the star of the game. But Johnson, who had to play after Maalik Wayns left the game at the 11:31 mark with a left knee injury, also drew praise from his coach.
“It was great for them to go through this,” Wright said. “It was great to have Ty on the floor, and Ash and JP out three in the end. It was really cool. I think that’s going to be good for us in the long run, and we’ve just got to build on this.”
Later, Wright said having the three freshmen on the floor “bodes well for our future,” particularly the 6-foot-3 Johnson, who was limited in the pre-season after suffering a broken bone in his foot in June.
“I’ve been looking for any type of situation to get Tyrone Johnson some positive minutes,” he said. “He’s just behind but we think he’s going to be good. It was just great to have him on the floor. The other guys got confidence in him there. He did a really good job on (Friars point guard Vincent) Council in the second half.
“I think for our young guys, it’s going to give them a lot of confidence. I think Ash Yacoubou did a great job defensively on (Bryce) Cotton for the short period of time he was in there.”
Yacoubou, who scored a putback basket during the rally, came on defensively as Wright tried to protect Dominic Cheek, who picked up his fourth personal foul with 5:01 to play and platooned with Yacoubou whenever possible.
Wright also gave credit to 6-11 redshirt junior Maurice Sutton, who was active defensively for his entire 14 minutes of playing time, including a block of Gerard Coleman’s runner in the lane on Providence’s final possession.
The Villanova defense, maligned for much of the season, went from ice cold to red hot in the space of two hours.
Cotton knocked down four three-point baskets in the span of 1:56 to spark the Friars’ closing 18-2 run that gave the visitors a 44-30 halftime lead. When LaDontae Henton swished a three-ball with 14 minutes left in the second half, Providence had a 60-41 lead and was shooting 22 of 35 (62.9 percent).
But the Wildcats, who had failed to get back-to-back defensive stops during the previous 10 minutes during which the Friars scored 34 points, held the visitors scoreless on 11 of their next 12 trips down the court in eating into the deficit. The Friars made just three of their last 21 attempts from the field (14.3 percent).
Cheek, who scored 17 points for ‘Nova, said he had no negative thoughts after his team went down by 19.
“It was the same thing that always goes through my mind – just keep grinding it out,” he said. “That’s what we did. That’s what got us back in the game. I don’t think we did nothing different. We stuck to the game plan and got more aggressive and more together on defense.”
The Wildcats go into a seven-day break before their game next Wednesday at South Florida with one worry – the status of Wayns. Villanova’s leading scorer was expected to get an MRI later Wednesday to determine the extent of his injury.
But the idle time will be better than the most recent seven-day break the Wildcats had. On Jan. 28, they blew an 18-point lead against Marquette and lost 82-78, then had that stick in their minds until they played Pittsburgh last Sunday.