PROVIDENCE, R.I. – So what is it with Villanova and first-round NCAA Tournament games anyway?
Last March, the Wildcats had to rally from a 14-point deficit early in the second half at the Wachovia Center against 14th-seeded American.
This afternoon at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, they took it to another level.
If the goal is to survive and advance, then they succeeded. But that’s about all they did.
They beat 15th-seeded Robert Morris (23-12) in overtime, 73-70. The Colonials almost became the fifth No. 15 to beat a 2, and the first since 2001. They were also trying to become the first Northeast Conference team to ever move on in the Madness.
And for the longest while, it looked like it actually might happen.
Villanova (25-7), which had lost five of its last seven, trailed by six at halftime. And by eight with a little over four minutes left. But Scottie Reynolds, who was brutal from the floor, kept getting to the foul line, and the Wildcats kept coming. They finally tied it at 55, with 1:48 remaining, on two Reynolds’ free throws. They would tie it again at 1:24, when he made one of two. And they would tie it one last time, at 58, on a layup by freshman center Mouphtaou Yarou at 52.8.
Reynolds had a chance to win it in regulation, after Nova held for the last shot, but his one-handed runner in the lane didn’t even come close. But the ball went out of bounds off Robert Morris. So Reggie Redding, following a timeout, lobbed an inbounds pass to Maurice Sutton alone at the basket. But he never got control and only hit backboard. So they put another five minutes up on the clock.
The Wildcats never trailed after that. They scored the first six points in the extra session, to go in front for the first time since 9-8. But now it was the Colonials’ turn to rally. They got to within 68-65 with 40.8 showing. Then they stole the ball and quickly made it a 1-point game. But Yarou made two freebies at 28.8. Redding made one at 15.9. Freshman Karon Abraham, who finished with 23 points, made an NBA three to make it 71-70 at 10.2. Reynolds converted twice at 9.1, and the best Robert Morris could do at the other end was an off-balance trey by Mezie Nwigwe just before the buzzer that hit the back of the iron.
"With 9 seconds left, we wanted to keep it out of [Karon] Abraham’s hands and not give up a three," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "Dominic Cheek got over the screen and did not allow a good look. Dominic made a great play."
Reynolds finished with 20, going 2-for-15 from the field and 15-for-16 at the line. Yarou had 17, to go with 8 rebounds.
Wright was asked about Yarou's 7-for-7 foul shooting. "[Laughing] he is not a 100 percent foul shooter but he’s a good shooter, he really is," Wright said. "He has been in for some short spurts, 1 or 2 minutes, and you can’t judge him on that. But when he’s played a lot of minutes, he got in a rhythm and that’s the kind of foul shooter he really is.
The Wildcats will play either Richmond or St. Mary’s on Saturday, in the South Regional second-round.