Wildcats 'D'-rail Michigan

(Published in Daily News, March 18, 1985)

DAYTON, Ohio - The "D-Train" is running and the next stop is Birmingham, Ala.

Villanova senior forward Dwayne "D-Train" McClain was back on track yesterday, scoring 20 points as the Wildcats derailed second-ranked Michigan, 59-55, in the second round of the NCAA Southeast Regional.

The victory over the Big 10 champions at the sold-out University of Dayton Arena lifted the Wildcats (21-10) into the Southeast Regional semifinals Friday against the University of Maryland (25-11).

It was arguably Villanova's biggest win since the Wildcats knocked off the University of North Carolina two years ago in a nationally televised game at Chapel Hill. It also set up a rematch with the Terps, who defeated the Wildcats, 77-74, earlier this year at College Park, Md.

"We didn't come into this game thinking we were underdogs," McClain said. "When you reach this point in the tournament, you have to believe you can play with anybody."

If McClain stays hot, Villanova looks as if it can hold its own with anyone left in the Southeast Regional field, which also includes Auburn, a Cinderella team from the Southeastern Conference, and crippled North Carolina.

The Wildcats showed a lot of ingredients necessary to advance during their win over Michigan (26-4). They did a good job of controlling the tempo, particularly down the stretch when the absence of a shot clock seemed to work in their favor. The 'Cats also defended very well in the matchup zone. They held 6-10 junior Roy Tarpley, the Big 10's MVP, to just two points in the second half and shut out freshman lead guard Gary Grant for the entire game.

But most importantly, Villanova coach Rollie Massimino found the right buttons to push where McClain is concerned.

"When Dwayne was in high school, he visited Purdue," Massimino recalled. "Today, before the game, I came in and I was busting his chops. I told him, 'You didn't want to go to school in the Big 10 because you thought it was too physical. You're playing against a Big 10 team today and you better play physical.' And he was.

"I thought he knocked it out pretty well. When he's shooting well and has the motion and the rhythm going, he can play with anybody."

McClain shot 8-for-12 against the Wolverines, torturing starting forward Richard Rellford whenever he would attempt to collapse on center Ed Pinckney. Then McClain used his 3-inch height advantage to shoot over backup Leslie Rockymore when Michigan coach Bill Frieder tried to produce some instant offense in the second half.

"I was looking for my shot today more than the other night (against Dayton)," McClain said, "because they were packing it in on Ed and that was the shot they were giving us."

On Friday, McClain went through a scoreless first half before exploding for 11 second-half points during the 'Cats' 51-49 first-round victory. But yesterday, he opened fire immediately.

"They looked a little tentative when we saw them play against FDU," McClain said of Michigan's opening-round, 59-55 victory over Fairleigh Dickinson. "So we wanted to take it right to them."

Michigan might have had the best physical specimens in the tournament. "They must have outweighed us by about 20 pounds on the frontline," said McClain, who gave the Wildcats at least one advantage in the matchups.

However, the Wolverines couldn't match the Wildcats' experience. Michigan has only two seniors, neither of whom started.

"In all honesty," Frieder said, "I think their experience - six (consecutive) years in the NCAA (tournament) and a veteran club - and our inexperience showed. I think that was evident. A mistimed shot or a careless turnover or even a missed free throw.

"There's no question, veteran clubs are the ones who survive."

The Wildcats, who start three seniors and two juniors, had enough poise and experience to weather a major crisis against the Wolverines.

Villanova did not score a field goal from the point when 3:01 remained in the first half until 11:28 remained in the game. The Wildcats had a six-point lead at the beginning of the drought; they trailed, 35-30, when it ended.

"We went eight minutes in the second half without a field goal and they still only had us down five," Massimino said. "We missed some easy shots. Eddie missed one. Harold Pressley missed two. We were getting good shots. It was just a matter of the ball not going in the hole. I told the kids I think when you get in a tournament like this, you just have to realize as long as you play hard, good things will happen."

This was one time when they did. The Wildcats, who have had so many frustrating experiences this season, regained the lead, 38-37, when Gary McLain hit one of two free throws. After McClain made a jumper to send the 'Cats ahead 46-43 with 4:22 left and after Grant missed a jumper, Massimimo sent his team into a well-orchestrated spread.

"Thank God the clock was off, because down the stretch that's what we've done best," Massimino said. "These kids, through the years, have been through it and have held the ball quite a bit."

Villanova, which shot 25-for-31 from the line, nailed 14 of its last 16 free throws once it went to the delay. More importantly, the Wildcats did not turn the ball over against Michigan's hounding man-to-man pressure at crunch time.

"We made some runs, got that little lead," Frieder said. "But they came back and, from there on, everything they did was almost perfect. We forced them to take perimeter shots and they made them. They went to the free throw line and they made them. They didn't turn the ball over."

The Wildcats, who got 14 points and seven rebounds from Pinckney, their workhorse, also did a good job of earning a standoff in the post against Tarpley, who finished with 14 points but was noticeably quiet in the second half.

"Just playing against Patrick Ewing twice a year is enough to get you ready to play any center out there," Pinckney said. "But I got a lot of help from my teammates. A couple times in the second half, I tried to front him and Harold Pressley would come up with the help-side steal."

Villanova, which also got nine points apiece from McLain and Pressley, is one of four teams from the Big East in the NCAA's Sweet 16. The only other conference that can claim that distinction is the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"People think that just because we've lost 10 games, there must be something wrong," Massimino said. "Name me another team in the country that has played the No. 1 and 2 teams in the country - Georgetown, St. John's and Michigan - six times."