Call it a hustle play, or just a fundamental play. A fundamental hustle play. Villanova big man Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree wasn’t supposed to get the offensive rebound on a teammate’s missed free throw, but he got a finger or two on it. When the ball bounced off the backboard, the Creighton player boxing Cosby-Roundtree out had stepped toward the baseline.
The play became a Villanova highlight. Cosby-Roundtree stood open to grab the carom. His overtime putback dunk put the home team in front of Creighton by three.
Cosby-Roundtree didn’t attribute the play to hustle, just doing what he has been trained to do.
“We practice going in with our inside hand, just stepping up the lane," Cosby-Roundtree said later, standing outside his locker room. “So I went straight in, trying to smack the ball out. As he went for the ball, it kind of went off the backboard. I just grabbed it. I saw nobody was in front of me. I just went up. That’s something we practice all the time, every day. I just got lucky.”
Next trip down, Villanova still up three, there had been a missed jumper, a Villanova offensive rebound — Creighton had finally lost a step in OT — and another jumper, by Phil Booth, but it missed everything. Lucky again?
“I was just trying to get in position to rebound, trying to get somewhere," Cosby-Roundtree said. “It just happened to fall into my lap. I saw I was under the rim so I turned and Booth was wide open.”
Taking Cosby-Roundtree’s pass, Booth didn’t miss the second time around. Six-point lead, upset averted, Villanova now 10 for 10 in the Big East after the 66-59 escape.
Of all the things that have happened with Villanova this season, it’s legitimate to argue that getting the big man rotation right was as important as any. That didn’t necessarily benefit Cosby-Roundtree right away. He’s lost his spot in the starting lineup, Jay Wright going smaller, starting forward Jermaine Samuels instead.
The change worked. Villanova has usually been getting out of the gate quicker. (Just not against Creighton; three-pointers weren’t falling.)
How Cosby-Roundtree handled it — that’s what everyone saw.
“That’s what they’re saying in there," one Villanova staffer said, nodding toward the locker room he had just left. “He didn’t lose his head.”
“For me, it’s something, I never really cared about minutes," Cosby-Roundtree said. “Well, I wouldn’t say that. I never really cared about when or how much I played. If I started or came off the bench, it never really bothered me.”
Cosby-Roundtree’s minutes have gone back up lately, just a bit. So have his contributions.
“You know, it was a lot that had do with my leg," Cosby-Roundtree said. “I was hurting at first. The stress fracture, the surgery.”
Cosby-Roundtree had played his senior year at Neumann-Goretti with a stress fracture, had told nobody about the pain he was feeling until the season ended. He had surgery that spring.
“It’s always going to hurt," he said. “It was that, flaring back up. Coach told me, I want you to kind of rest it, do different treatments, stuff like that. Make sure you feel better before you come in games, so you can play harder. There was a stretch of games I wasn’t really playing my best. We felt that was the way to do it.”
That meant a couple of games where Cosby-Roundtree played 5 minutes.
“I saw the trainer more, I started wearing this pad on my leg," Cosby-Roundtree. “It was more knowing, me not starting, when I came off the bench I had to give the team whatever I could give them, no matter how long I’m on the floor.”
A little history here: When Cosby-Roundtree was being recruited by Villanova, at least one rival recruiter told him he’d never see the court there. He asked for a meeting with Villanova’s coaches, laid out the concern. Just the way he handled that made Wright want him even more.
The issue, it turned out, wasn’t one. Cosby-Roundtree got minutes last season, the main post player off Villanova’s NCAA-winning bench. When Omari Spellman left for the NBA, suddenly Cosby-Roundtree was Villanova’s primary post player. A lot to ask of the sophomore, even if fully healthy. This Creighton game, however, provided another example of why Villanova had recruited him.
Knowing how a little play — how to pressure the inside rebounder on a foul shot — can turn into a big play. You don’t have to start to do that.