PITTSBURGH — On Sunday, second-seeded Villanova led wire to wire, fighting off a ferocious comeback effort from Ohio State to advance to come out with the win and advance to the Sweet 16.
The Wildcats took control of this one early in the first half behind ten points from senior leader Collin Gillespie in the first eight minutes of play. His sharp shooting — including two threes — paced Villanova early on, while forward Jermaine Samuels and guard Caleb Daniels carried the load throughout the rest of the half, scoring nine points apiece in the frame.
“It’s great if he’s in a groove,” Samuels said about Gillespie. “Everybody is in the same type of groove, we’re ready to make plays for him and he’s ready to make plays for us. We have the ultimate faith and trust in him. We see him work every single day and anything he does we follow. Anything he needs we do and that’s the beauty of our team.”
The Wildcats doubled Ohio State’s points in the paint total in the first half, dominating the inside on offense and holding Buckeyes’ big man Kyle Young to just two points.
After building its lead as high as 15 points in the second half, Villanova looked to be cruising home to the Sweet 16. However, Ohio State’s Malaki Branham was not going to let them run away just yet.
Trailing by nine with just under ten minutes to go, Branham sank a three — his team-leading fourth bucket of the half — to cut the Wildcats’ lead to six. For the first time all half, the game felt within reach for the Buckeyes.
After Samuels hit a layup for the ‘Cats, Branham came back and hit two more jumpers in a row, and the lead was down to four. Ohio State would eventually cut the deficit as close as two points on a Jamari-Wheeler three ball, but could never get its hands on a lead all game.
After Villanova’s Eric Dixon hit a rally-killing three pointer with a little over one minute to go, the lead was back up to eight with 1:27 remaining, and Villanova came out with the win.
“Not that we don’t think he’s a great shooter, but to have the guts to take that shot,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said about Dixon. “He had other options that was part of that play. And Collin gave it to him and I think you heard him say this, if Collin gives it to them — I think they have the confidence if Collin is giving it to me that’s telling me, go ahead and shoot it. He had other options. I give him a lot of credit, man, that’s guts. And players just have that. If you’re a player you’ve got to have guts and he’s got it.”
Gillespie finished the win with a team-high 20 points, hitting all eight of his free throws and adding five field goals. He also dished out a team-high four assists in the win. Samuels followed with 17 points of his own, hitting 78% of his shots from the field and grabbing eight rebounds.
For Ohio State, Branham led the way with 23 points, hitting 10 of his 19 field-goal attempts. Liddell followed with 17 points, while also grabbing a team-high six rebounds in the loss.
The Wildcats now move on to the Sweet 16, where they will take on 11-seeded Michigan after a few days off.