PHILADELPHIA -- Sunday afternoon began with Seton Hall entering the Wells Fargo Center hoping to score an upset of top-ranked Villanova in much the same vein as the City of Brotherly Love's professional football franchise, the Eagles, intends to later tonight against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII. And after a fast start and punch-for-punch fight for about 33 minutes, the Pirates had more than just the proverbial fighting chance, even in the face of Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez being hindered by foul trouble.
Then Villanova showed up.
The Wildcats, leading by seven points with 6:51 to play, effectively slammed the door in emphatic fashion with a 17-3 run over the next 4:22, validating their No. 1 ranking in a 92-76 takedown of Seton Hall, one whose score is in no way indicative of how the game was truly contested.
The Pirates (17-6, 6-4 Big East) got near-double-doubles from Rodriguez (20 points, seven rebounds) and Angel Delgado (18 points, nine rebounds), but were done in by yielding a dozen three-point field goals to the reigning Big East champions on an afternoon where Villanova (22-1, 9-1 Big East) placed all five of its starters in double figures and withstood another game challenge from one of the contenders to their throne, upending the Pirates for a 16th-consecutive time.
Next for Seton Hall is a home game Wednesday against Marquette before a two-game jaunt to Georgetown and Xavier, and before the Pirates head back up the New Jersey Turnpike, we interrupt your Super Bowl pregame with a handful of takeaways from this afternoon's transpirings:
1) Foul trouble reared its ugly head.
Rodriguez picked up three whistles before the last media timeout of the first half, getting rung up with 6:19 on the clock in the opening stanza before having to go to the bench. After this first body blow, Seton Hall held its own, even battling back to take the lead before Omari Spellman (more on him later) kick-started a 7-2 run that swung the pendulum the way of the hosts into the locker room, with Villanova owning a 41-37 edge after 20 minutes.
The Pirates were dealt a second shot to the gut before they could even blink coming out of the intermission, as Carrington picked up two fouls in the first 53 seconds before his fourth infraction; which came on an illegal screen with 13:21 to play, got the visitors off their feet.
"The fourth foul on Khadeen really kind of changed the momentum of the game," Kevin Willard lamented. "When you don't have your point guard out there, that really just kills your whole rhythm, offensively and defensively. Him not being in the game was really a big difference-maker."
"Losing him, it gave those guys a lot of confidence," Angel Delgado added with regard to Carrington's absence. "I think the other team saw that, and Jalen (Brunson), having a little guy on him, he just went to work. They know how to play. Every time they get to the middle, they get open shots, so that was the difference."
2) I Put A Spell On You
In his first action against Seton Hall, Omari Spellman put on an offensive clinic at the Pirates' expense. The likely Big East Freshman of the Year, the 6-foot-8 Swiss Army knife led all players with 26 points and 11 rebounds, and dazzled a bevy of NBA scouts in attendance with makes on six of his seven three-point field goal attempts.
"I thought Omari played like a veteran," said Jay Wright of his rookie prodigy. "I just thought he really played intelligently."
"I could shoot," Spellman quipped when asked if he was more comfortable shooting from long range, generating a round of boisterous laughter from the gaggle of media gathered in Villanova's press conference.
Spellman was the catalyst from the onset, scoring Villanova's first seven points and then adding five more in the Wildcats' 7-2 run to end the first half. When the game was still a tight two-point affair with just over nine minutes remaining, he buried another three-pointer to give the hosts some much-needed breathing room, then answered a Myles Powell triple with one of his own to turn a five-point cushion back into a more desired eight-point lead. Finally, his last three, with 4:34 remaining in regulation, gave Villanova an insurmountable 81-69 advantage, effectively turning out the lights.
"He made a lot of shots I wasn't expecting," Delgado said of his counterpart. "He did a great job out there. When somebody's making shots, it's hard to stop."
3) Donte's Inferno
Now thrust into the starting lineup as a result of Phil Booth's injury, Donte DiVincenzo has become a more important piece of the puzzle for the Wildcats, or at least that is how it appears on paper. The fact is, though, the redshirt sophomore and Sixth Man of the Year contender -- at least until Booth's departure -- is no less valuable than he was as a reserve.
"In my mind, he's doing the same thing," Wright remarked after DiVincenzo's stat-stuffing afternoon, which saw seven rebounds and seven assists complement 13 points. "He played 37 minutes, and he probably would have played 37 even if Phil was here. He's always been a starter in my mind, so it's interesting -- I'm sure everyone will think of it that way -- but to us, we always want him in the game. It doesn't matter if we don't start him. When we get him in there, we just want to leave him in there, and he knows that."
4) The machine rolls on.
For Villanova, who has only seen six of their 23 games this season decided by single digits, today's effort was business as usual for one of the most systematic and methodical attacks in the nation, one which prompted Big East Digital Network analyst John Fanta to ask Wright if the Wildcats truly are a machine, and brought on an introspective and thoughtful response from the dean of Big East head coaches:
"I think it's a tribute to the talent we have on this team," Wright said. "We knew Omari could do things like this, we knew (Dhamir) Cosby-Roundtree could play like this, but we didn't need them to because we had Phil. If Omari needed to defend and rebound, he was okay with it. But now, when we need him to step up in a game like this when you have a great big guy like Delgado and you want to get him away from the basket, he's ready to do it."
"If your mind's messed up in those previous games, you can't do it in this game," he further surmised. "So I think it's a tribute to the talent we have."
5) The rematch:
Villanova invades the Prudential Center on February 28, and will likely bring at least half of what will be a capacity crowd with the upper bowl open in Newark for just the third time in Seton Hall's 11-year residence inside the home of the New Jersey Devils. Regardless, there was no feeling of one that got away Sunday afternoon, rather a learning experience in preparation for the second crack at the 2016 national champions.
"They just did the little things," Delgado assessed. "They did the little things better than us. They just got the little putbacks, the rebounds. That's how they took the lead and they beat us. If we would have covered that stuff, I think we would have been good. A game is a game, that's just how it is."
"We've got a lot of confidence right now," he intimated. "We should do a little bit better. At home, I definitely think we're going to do better. We're going to be -- now that we lost to them and we know how that feels -- we know that feeling, I think we're going to play a little bit harder, we're going to do the little things at home. We've just got to come and play -- we've got them in three-and-a-half weeks -- we've got a big opportunity and we've just got to take every minute, play hard every minute, and at the end of the day, we'll get the win."