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Heartbreak in Newark as Villanova fails to clinch potential March Madness berth on Wednesday | Villanova vs. Seton Hall Recap

Written by on March 8, 2024

With a chance to clinch their ticket to March Madness, Villanova failed to capitalize on the opportunity as the Wildcats fell to Seton Hall, 66-56, at the Prudential Center on Wednesday night. Eric Dixon and TJ Bamba tried to push the Wildcats to the finish line, but unfortunately, Kadary Richmond and Seton Hall just played a better game. The disappointing loss does not significantly diminish Villanova’s March Madness hopes, but it makes Saturday’s game against Creighton at the Wells Fargo Center basically a must-win situation.

Outside the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ on a rainy Wednesday evening prior to Villanova vs. Seton Hall.

As usual, Eric Dixon led Villanova with 14 points and six rebounds. He shot 5-11 from the field and really dominated in the first half of the game. TJ Bamba came alive in the final twenty minutes to score 11 points. Besides Dixon and Bamba, the other three Wildcats’ starters scored just 14 combined points. In addition to the poor performance from the starters, the Wildcats converted just 35% of their shots from the field and 33% from behind the arc.

Seton Hall shot 39% from the field and 39% from three. Despite shooting just 32% as a team from behind the arc, the Pirates found surprising success from three against Villanova. Kadary Richmond, who averages almost 16 points per game, scored 20 points with six rebounds and five assists. Jaden Bediako had a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Bediako controlled the paint defensively in the second half and used his physicality and good rebounding to limit Dixon and the Wildcats. Dre Davis shot 5-10 from the field for 18 points. The Pirates used just a seven-man rotation with two bench players, but they had a lot of success from their starters to outscore Villanova.

Game Recap

First Half: Hot Start and Cold Finish

Villanova’s start against Seton Hall on Wednesday was almost identical to the entire first matchup against the Pirates. The Wildcats’ offense found quick success, especially in the paint with Eric Dixon, and applied all the pressure on the Pirates. At the first media timeout, Villanova led Seton Hall, 10-4. Dixon scored five of the first ten points.

After Hakim Hart drained a three with 14:09 left to play, Villanova extended their lead to seven, 13-6. Justin Moore hit a couple of early threes. However, the first ten minutes of the first half were a strong defensive battle and eventually led to major scoring droughts for both squads. Kadary Richmond, who is the average leading scorer for the Pirates, and Dre Davis quickly trimmed Villanova’s lead to just one point with back-to-back threes. After a lot of success last season from behind the arc, Richmond is only shooting about 23% from three this season, but he had a lot of open space to shoot in this game and he made Villanova pay.

The Cats’ held their one-point lead for about the next three minutes of the game. The pace and tempo were quick and not favoring Villanova. The Wildcats were not converting many shots and the offense did not have many second chance opportunities. After keeping their lead around one to four points for most of the middle of the first half, Villanova lost their lead with a 10-0 Seton Hall run towards the end of the half. A couple threes from Al-Amir Dawes and good paint layups by Jaden Bediako led Seton Hall to the locker room with a 30-24 lead.

Villanova’s first five minutes of the game were completely different from the rest of the first half, where they were outplayed. The Wildcats’ defense did their job for the most part, but the offense did not have the same rhythm and efficiency as it did against Providence on Saturday. Seton Hall adjusted well from the first contest and defended much better in the paint and from behind the arc. The Cats’ were outrebounded, 22-15, in the first twenty minutes. They needed to fix that trend in the second half.

Second Half: The Wildcats Fight but more offensive issues

Unfortunately, Villanova’s rebounding did not get any better in the final twenty minutes, and the Wildcats’ offense continued to look lackluster and similar to January’s offense. After a Dylan Addae-Wusu three-pointer, Seton Hall’s lead grew to 12 points with 16:26 left to play. The Wildcats went on a nice 6-0 run led by Eric Dixon and Jordan Longino to cut the deficit to six points. However, Dre Davis immediately responded with a mid-range jumper. Villanova could not hit clutch baskets consistently, and when they found any sort of offense, they could not come up with the key stops.

Once again, the Pirates led by 13 points with 9:10 left to play. Kadary Richmond continued to step up for Pirates like all season long. Seton Hall’s three-point shooting also impressed and never fell back to their team average, which was last in the Big East heading into the game. In a last chance for Villanova, the Wildcats cut the deficit back to six points after a Longino three and Hausen four-point play. Villanova kept fighting in Newark and made it a four-point game with five minutes left thanks to successful Hausen free throws.

However, like the entire game, Seton Hall had an answer. The main combination offensively, especially in the second half, was Kadary Richmond and Dre Davis. Richmond and Davis played great games, but Jaden Bediako also provided a tremendous effort for the Pirates. In addition to his awesome rebounding all game long, Jaden Bediako almost officially sealed the victory with an easy layup in the paint. The Wildcats’ defense completely forgot about Bediako while guarding the perimeter, and Seton Hall led by eight points with 4:10 left.

The Wildcats came within five points again in the final four minutes, but time was not on Villanova’s side. The Cats’ played the foul game, but the Pirates drained their free throws. Seton Hall defeated Villanova, 66-56, for the first time since 2020.

My Thoughts + Villanova’s Road Ahead

Besides the difference in the offensive performance of the starters, the other main difference was the rebounding. Seton Hall is the better rebounding team, but Villanova needed to keep it close like they did in the first matchup about four weeks ago. However, the Pirates led that category, 39-29. The Wildcats also had 11 turnovers. Villanova went over their average of 9.5 turnovers per game and Seton Hall stayed under their average of turnovers with 11. Seton Hall also had seven blocks compared to Villanova’s two blocks.

The positive from this game was the defense. Even with some unusual three-point success for the Pirates, Villanova contested a good amount of those three-point attempts. Seton Hall just knocked down key shots from behind the arc. Villanova held their opponent to under 70 points, which has been such an important threshold for them this season. Coming into the game, the Wildcats were 16-3 when holding their opponents to under 70 points. However, the offense’s overall lackluster performance led to the loss.

This loss hurts because the Wildcats had a chance to basically confirm their March Madness ticket with a Quad 1 road win against Seton Hall. However, there’s a reason why games like these are considered Quad 1 games, and Villanova was honestly due for a poor performance, specifically offensively. There are some concerning trends like bad offense on the road and in big games (except for Providence) and rebounding issues. And when the lights are the brightest, you would like to see Villanova step up and win the game. The Wildcats did battle and fight back on Wednesday, but it just was not good enough. The Pirates deserve a lot of credit for making their shots. Although there’s a lot of disappointment among Nova Nation, Villanova’s road to the Big Dance is still right in front of them: beat Creighton on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center. A win against Creighton might not officially lock up the Wildcats’ bid, but it will put them extremely close to making the tournament. However, a good performance and deep run in the Big East Tournament would not hurt. It’s such a crucial game for Villanova on Saturday as the Wildcats look to sweep Creighton in conference play.

The view of Villanova vs. Seton Hall at the Prudential Center on Wednesday from the media seating next to the basket.

Big East Standings + Villanova’s Record

Villanova is now 17-13 overall and 10-9 in conference play. They are currently tied with Providence and St. John’s for 5th place in the Big East. The Wildcats hold the tiebreaker against Providence, but do not against St. John’s. Therefore, Villanova is technically the 6th seed and would most likely play DePaul on Wednesday in the Big East Tournament’s first round.

WXVU’s Live Coverage of Villanova vs. #10 Creighton on Saturday

WXVU’s live coverage of Villanova vs. #10 Creighton begins at 2pm with the pregame show. Tipoff from the Wells Fargo Center is scheduled for 2:30pm tomorrow.