Brianna Herlihy had only connected on five three-pointers the entire season.
Emily Esposito had never started a college game and had never taken more than 10 shots in a game.
Both of them decided to flip the switch on Friday night, leading Villanova over Old Dominion, 86-81, at Finneran Pavilion in the first round of the WNIT.
Trailing 69-66 with 1.8 seconds remaining in regulation, Herlihy got her defender to bite on a pump fake, freeing up enough space for one final shot. It was the dream of every kid who has ever shot around in their driveway, she said later.
“The whole time our coaches were saying, ‘You gotta shoot threes. You gotta be confident. Keep shooting until you make them,' " Herlihy said. "And, they started falling, so everyone’s shooting threes, and at the end there, mine fell.”
Herlihy notched a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds, both career highs.
Esposito, a redshirt freshman, filled in for the injured Kelly Jekot, the team’s second-leading scorer, for her first career start.
She didn’t disappoint.
Down 15-12 early in the second quarter, Esposito scored 11 straight points -- nine from deep -- for the Wildcats, putting pressure on a Monarchs defense that was daring Villanova to shoot.
“For me to hit threes tonight, I really wasn’t expecting that, but they were leaving me open," Esposito said. “So, at some point, you have to shoot.”
Esposito scored 27 points on 10-of-21 shooting, including 7-of-14 from three-point range, all career-highs, to lead the Wildcats to a second round matchup on the road against West Virginia on Sunday.
But Villanova (19-12, 9-9 Big East) could never pull away. Eventually, Old Dominion (21-11, 10-6 Conference USA) rolled out to a 63-54 lead with 4 minutes, 57 seconds remaining.
“We just kept grinding it out," said Villanova coach Harry Perretta. “If we lost, we would have lost. But we kept grinding it out the best we could, and luckily they missed enough shots to where we could get it and make a shot to tie it. ... It’s a great game for our seniors, but it’s also a great game for our underclassmen to get some experience in being primary players instead of secondary players."
Villanova strung together a couple of defensive stops in a row, and Mary Gedaka scored on a wide open inbounds play with 19 seconds left to send the team to within one before Old Dominion sank two free throws. Gedaka scored her 1,000th career point in the process and became the 29th player in team history to do so.
“It’s a team award," Gedaka said. "I’m really, really thankful for the teammates I’ve had for the past three years now. I wouldn’t have been able to have done this without them.”
The Wildcats scored nine unanswered points in the first three minutes of overtime to seal the win. For Old Dominion head coach Nikki McCray-Penson, Villanova’s three-point shooting turned out to be too much compared to her team’s preferred style of play of taking the ball inside for layups and foul shots.
“I think for us it just talks about our character and who we are and how we play," McCray-Penson said. "We just like to battle. We gave them 15 threes. That’s who they are. They knock down shots.”
The win not only adds one more game to Villanova’s schedule, but it extends the careers of seniors Grace Stant, Adrianna Hahn and Jannah Tucker.
“It’s incredible," said Tucker, who had nine points on 3-of-6 shooting. “I’m so happy for the three of them and for Mary getting her 1,000th. For them to step up and gain their confidence a little bit and to show themselves that they can win games, that helps us. They don’t really see it, but that helps us as a team.”