A break from Big East Conference play will not be much of a respite for No. 15 Villanova, which not only moves back into always-rugged Big 5 play, but it will be tasked with a road game at Temple on Sunday.
The Wildcats (18-6) have compiled a 3-0 record in Big 5 games this season, while the Owls (13-11) have gone 2-1 against fellow Philadelphia-area schools. The three other schools that participate in the informal league are La Salle, Penn and Saint Joseph’s.
Villanova is working its way through a rough stretch. The Wildcats are coming off a 72-71 victory over No. 18 Marquette on Wednesday. Before that game, there were three consecutive defeats against Creighton, then-No. 19 Butler and then-No. 12 Seton Hall.
Villanova led by 18 points in the second half against Marquette, but the Golden Eagles came back behind Wooden Award candidate Markus Howard, who had 24 points. Wildcats freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl hit a clinching free throw with 4.8 seconds remaining.
The deciding point was one of a team-leading 17 for Robinson-Earl, who also had 11 rebounds. Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels had 14 points each for Villanova.
“We’re growing,” Villanova coach Jay Wright told reporters after the game. “But what’s tough at this time of year is these juniors and seniors in the league have been in the Big East. They know it’s getting to be crunch time. They know what to do. Our guys are still learning. We just have to find a way to gut it out — to improve as quickly as we can. We have a lot of room for improvement.”
The Wildcats can work on some of that improvement against the Owls, whom they have defeated six consecutive times, including a 69-59 victory last season. Samuels came off the bench to score a team-leading 15 points in that one.
Villanova has won the outright Big 5 title in five of the past six seasons. They already have clinched a share of this season’s Big 5 title, but Temple can earn a share of the crown with a victory Saturday. The Wildcats have won 27 Big 5 titles.
The Owls have been better of late, winning consecutive games in American Athletic Conference play and three of their past four. Before that surge, they had a four-game losing streak that included a Big 5 defeat to Penn.
Quinton Rose scored 23 points and Nate Pierre-Louis had 14 rebounds for Temple in a 72-68 victory at Tulane on Wednesday. The Owls rallied from a 13-point deficit with just over 11 minutes remaining. Temple shot 50 percent from the field in the second half.
“We’re trying to make a statement from here on out,” Temple coach Aaron McKie said. “We have seven more (games), and we have to want to make a statement … each game. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We have (Villanova) on Sunday, and we want to focus on that game, and the goal is to continue to win.”
Rose is scoring 16.2 points per game while Pierre-Louis is producing 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds for the Owls. Temple forward De’Vondre Perry has missed the past two games with a foot injury, but McKie hopes he can return Sunday.
Saddiq Bey leads a balanced Villanova attack with 15.7 points per game while Gillespie is at 15.6. Five Villanova players average double-figure scoring.
–Field Level Media