In the opening minutes of Thursday night’s game at the Pavilion, the 12th-ranked Villanova Wildcats looked poised to run away with the game, taking a 9-0 lead just 4:37 in. The Wildcats would take advantage of 13 Bucknell turnovers early in the half to build their lead to as much as 14.
Bucknell was down, but they were not out.
The Villanova players, coaches and fans would be left biting their fingernails throughout, as they narrowly edged the Bison, 72-65.
The Bison would settle down as the first half wore on, but would still find themselves down 33-20 with 1:19 remaining in the half. Bucknell would hit a pair of threes in the waning seconds of the half, however, cutting the Villanova lead to just 33-26 at the break to make things just a bit uncomfortable for Jay Wright and crew.
“It’s really a credit to them. They handled it. They didn’t get flustered when they turned the ball over and they still kept executing down the stretch,” Wright said.
Bucknell would pick up right where they left off at the start of the second half, tying the game at 39-39 with 14:34 remaining in the game, as the Wildcats suddenly began to seem vulnerable.
Behind a career game from junior guard Chris Hass, the Bison would continue to push Villanova to their limits, eventually taking a 62-61 on three Hass free throws with 3:33 remaining in the game.
Villanova would quickly regain the lead on a Daniel Ochefu layup, but again the Bison would turn to Hass, and again the guard would deliver, knocking down a three to put Bucknell up 65-63 with just 1:59 remaining.
“We knew they were going to Hass, they just found different ways to get the ball to him,” Wright said. “They did a great job and we couldn’t stop him.”
The Wildcats would show poise over the final two minutes of play, however, as Ryan Arcidiacono knocked down two free throws to tie the game and Ochefu blocked two consecutive shots to keep the game knotted.
Ochefu would be sent to the line with the game tied at 65-65, knocking down one of his two free throws to give Villanova back the lead.
Down one, the Bison would continue to look for Hass, but Darrun Hilliard would come up with a huge steal with 35 seconds remaining, as the Wildcats were able to hang on for a 72-65 victory.
“I’m very proud of our guys and very proud of my alma mater [Bucknell]. They were very well coached, better coached than the ‘Cats tonight,” Wright said. “They just had all the answers.”
Ochefu would be key to the Wildcats’ survival of this test, as the big man recorded a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, adding three blocks as well.
“I thought Daniel was outstanding defensively,” Wright said. “He had a good offensive game obviously, but I thought he was outstanding defensively all over the floor, playing on the perimeter, rebounding. Those plays at the end were huge, protecting the basket.”
Villanova will need to have a short memory, as they prepare for a tough VCU squad on Monday at the Barclay’s Center.
By: Kyle Babcock
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