Darrun Hilliard was one of four Villanova players in double figures, leading No. 8 Wildcats with 19 points in 83-67 victory over Seton Hall. (Photo courtesy of PhilaHoops.com)
Big East play may have started just last week, but it seems as though the two early favorites to win the regular season championship in the restructured league have each come through the Prudential Center in the last five days.
Just over 96 hours removed from Seton Hall's first experience against Doug McDermott and Creighton, the Pirates had their hands full with another conference powerhouse tonight, fighting valiantly against Villanova (14-1) before succumbing to an 83-67 loss that dropped Kevin Willard's team to 10-6 overall and 1-2 in Big East action.
"It's fun to watch them play," Willard said of the highest ranked team the Pirates have faced this season, as Villanova remained undefeated in the conference portion of their ledger. "They're a really good team, and Jay (Wright) does a phenomenal job with them."
Playing without Fuquan Edwin due to a bruised knee in addition to Eugene Teague as the forward recovers from a horrific concussion suffered two weeks ago against Lafayette, Seton Hall played admirable basketball through the opening stanza, nearly matching Villanova on every shot as the Wildcats took a 38-32 lead into the intermission fueled by seven threes, five of which coming from the backcourt tandem of Darrun Hilliard and Ryan Arcidiacono, who combined for 33 points on an evening where the eighth-ranked team in the nation shot 52 percent from the field and 12-of-23 from beyond the arc.
"It wasn't pretty," said Jay Wright after the game, "but sometimes you've got to find a way to battle and get the win. We're sharing the ball a lot, we do share the ball, and we're doing a great job with shot selection."
Seton Hall got as close as five points early in the second half after a Sterling Gibbs three-pointer cut Villanova's lead to 44-39 with 15:48 remaining in regulation, but the Wildcats; as they had done throughout the night, proved they were able to take a punch, answering Gibbs' triple with an 11-5 run punctuated by a three from Dylan Ennis with 11:32 to go to take a 55-44 lead, a cushion that was maintained for the duration of the half.
Brian Oliver's 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting led all scorers, while Gibbs and Patrik Auda chipped in with 13 points each. For Villanova, four Wildcats ended the night in double figures, with Hilliard's 19 and JayVaughn Pinkston's 17 leading the way while Arcidiacono poured in 14 and Josh Hart added 11 off the bench.
Seton Hall hits the road to face Marquette on Saturday, while Villanova continues their New York metropolitan area swing against St. John's at Madison Square Garden.