Philadelphia, PA — No. 15 Villanova must have made a wish on Collin Gillespie, because he was a bonfire shooting star. The junior finished with 29 points on seven three-point baskets en route to a 76-56 win over the Temple Owls.
With the victory, the Wildcats (19-6) win their sixth outright Philadelphia Big 5 title in the last seven seasons and improve to 4-0 in Big 5 play.
In the first half, Villanova would get things kicked off with an early 6-0 run with Gillespie knocking down two three pointers. However, Temple (13-12) would go on a 7-0 run to counteract the Wildcats fast start and take a one point lead. After those two sequences by the two ball clubs, the game really began to become choppy.
The Wildcats were doing an outstanding job of playing defense without fouling the other team. They finished the first half committing only six fouls, two of which came from their star big Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. Yet, although the Wildcats would play well on the defensive end, offensively they struggled mightily.
The team would go scoreless for over a four minute stretch and couldn’t find anyone other than Gillespie to knock down a basket. The sharpshooter finished the first half with 15 points while his teammates combined for a whopping 11 points on 1-for 12 shooting and 1-of-9 from distance.
The team’s first field goal from someone not named Gillespie wouldn’t come until the 5:18 mark of the half from Cole Swider. In addition, for a team that came into the game converting on 35 percent of their threes on the year, they only hit 28 percent of their shots from beyond-the-arc. Yet, Gillespie felt no pressure to take that load of picking up the scoring duties for Villanova.
“We really focused on defending and rebounding, “ he said. “That’s what we locked in on in the first half. We adjusted a little bit in the second half and I was just being aggressive in the first half coming off ball screens catching and shooting.”
You can thank the slow shooting start however to the defense of the Owls, who are one of the better three-point shooting defenses in the country. However, you could say that Villanova was lucky that Temple struggled as well in that first half.
Temple did not have the best shooting performance either from the field to begin the contest, but they did a great job breaking down the Wildcats defense in spurts. They would do a lot of swing-swing action which would then lead to aggressive drives inside for easy buckets in the paint. Quinton Rose, who finished the game with 22 points, had 14 of those come in the first half. He was in his bag early with right to left crossovers that led to jumpers and beautiful finishes at the hoop.
His buzzer beating layup would give the Owls a 30-26 lead going into the halftime break. Yet, the second half would tell all the story in this contest.
Villanova opened the game up as they did in the first half, two three pointers. However, they then exploded on a 20-2 run to take a four-point deficit and turn it into a 14-point lead (46-32). The team was in absolute Fuego in the second half from three, finishing 13-for 21 from long range, 17-36 overall. This was a team that seemed to not stop shooting the ball even with many not falling in the first half.
“We were just telling our guys to keep catching and shooting and stepping in and keep knocking it down,” said Gillespie. “We have confidence in all of our guys to step in and knock down shots and we just told them to be confident and worry about getting stops on the other end.”
Once the team got into a flow offensively, it was hard for Temple to really lock back in knowing they had to play catch up. They’d finish the contest shooting 36 percent from the field, and only knocking down two threes.
However, things became a lot easier for Villanova once they got into a rhythm on the offensive side of the ball. The passes were more crisp, the ball movement was second-to-none and there was more energy and movement on the defensive end. It also helped that they were giving Gillespie help from other scoring options such as Robinson-Earl, Jermaine Samuels (13 points and seven rebounds) and Saddiq Bey.
Bey didn’t have a great shooting night from the field, scoring way below his average of 15 points per game, but he impacted the game in other areas defensively with eight rebounds and getting others involved with his five assists.
Villanova has now won four consecutive games at Temple and have taken the last six games in their series versus the Owls. The team will stay on the road to face DePaul on Feb. 19.
On the other end, Temple will go toe-to-toe against the University of Connecticut on Feb. 20.