Villanova has many young players trying to learn new or expanded roles this season but the Wildcats do have a pair of constants – seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall – to settle them down in close games.
It was Booth’s turn to lead the Cats in the second half Tuesday night against 24th-ranked St. John’s, scoring 10 of his 23 points in the last seven minutes to lift the Wildcats to a 76-71 victory over the Red Storm in a Big East game at Finneran Pavilion.
Paschall scored 17 of his 25 points in the first half to keep the game from getting away from the Wildcats (12-4, 3-0 Big East), who trailed by as many as 13 in the first half and by eight midway through the second and led in the game for a total of less than three minutes.
While Booth (8-of-16, 6-of-11 from three-point range) and Paschall (8-of-14, 3-of-5) are shooting and rebounding (Paschall 8, Booth 7), they’re also on the court for a long, long time. Paschall sat for just 19 seconds of playing time the entire night, while Booth hung out on Jay Wright’s bench for all of 54 seconds.
“They’re in great shape,” Wright said. “I told them if there’s a time they’re tired, let me know, I’ll burn a timeout. They were going strong. Usually we don’t use timeouts if somebody’s tired, we just sub. But they never told me. They didn’t look tired to me. That’s great conditioning. I think that’s a credit to their work, too.”
Paschall, who played more than 38 minutes three days earlier at Providence, insisted there was no fatigue.
“Coach does a great job of getting us in the best shape during practice and forcing us to run hard, and we apply that to the game,” he said. “We get out there and run hard and if we get tired, we ask for a blow. Today I felt fine. I want to play for my teammates and coaches.”
The Wildcats had to go hard the entire night. The Red Storm (14-2, 2-2) started out with four straight three-point baskets in taking an early 14-2 advantage which grew to 20-7. They got the jump on ‘Nova again in the opening three minutes of the second half and led, 50-39.
After that, the game was one run after another. Villanova scored 12 in a row to take its first lead at 51-50. St. John’s responded with nine straight to go up, 59-51. An 11-3 run sparked by a Booth three-ball tied it at 62 with 5 minutes, 17 seconds to play.
However, after the Red Storm scored the next five points, Booth responded with back-to-back threes just 39 seconds apart to give Villanova the lead for good, 68-67, with 2:37 remaining, sparking a 10-0 spurt. A hustle play on an offensive rebound by Saddiq Bey led to two free throws with 10 seconds left that put the game away.
Shamorie Ponds scored 23 points to lead St. John’s but went 2 of 9 in the second half. After a hot first half, the Red Storm went just 4 of 14 from beyond the arc in the second half, and were outrebounded by 39-28 for the game.
Wright said it helps his younger players – Bey and fellow freshmen Jahvon Quinerly and Cole Swider, plus sophomore Jermaine Samuels – to be in games like this.
“If we can experience it and come out with a win, it’s really valuable to us,” he said. “Thank God for Phil and E, they’re really carrying these guys, not only in scoring but as leaders teaching them every day in practice; I’m really proud.”