By AARON BRACY
They have been playing this game since 1921 and never in the 92-year history of the Villanova-Saint Joseph’s rivalry has a team won by as many points as the Wildcats did on Saturday night.
Final: Villanova 98, St. Joe’s 68. Re-read that sentence.
If it had happened anywhere, it would have been surprising.
It one team was in a rebuilding mode, it would have been somewhat understandable.
But for the Wildcats to beat a pretty good St. Joe’s team at their on-campus court by 30 points was stunning.
“I don’t know how to describe it; it was an onslaught,” St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli said.
Let’s be clear that this is a very good Villanova team. Maybe even a great one. The Cats deservedly are ranked No. 14 in the country.
But this rivalry has been full of good – and even great – Villanova teams. And none of those beat the Hawks by 30 points.
Villanova coach Jay Wright, who like his St. Joe’s counterpart has witnessed or been a part of a million of these Big 5 games, was equally shocked.
“I probably thought of every scenario except this one,” Wright said after the Wildcats came within a point of tying the court record for opponent scoring. “We just made every shot in the second half. That was crazy. Two years ago here it was the other way around. What can I say? We just made every shot. It was unbelievable. It just happens once in a while.”
Wright probably was being a little kind. The Wildcats shot very well after halftime, making 16 of 33 shots, including 9 of 16 3-pointers. But the Cats didn’t shoot their way to victory. No, this wasn’t a game about any single statistical category.
You can break the numbers down any way you want, but it was simple: Villanova was just better – much, much better.
“I don’t think their depth wore us down, (but) quality of play,” Martelli said. “They had quality across the lineup and we can’t say the same.”
The Hawks’ problems started in the first half when Halil Kanacevic was forced to the bench with two fouls, 8:22 remaining before the break and the hosts leading 23-17. Foul trouble has plagued Kanacevic all season, and he is the player the Hawks least can afford to lose on offense.
With him playing only sparingly in offensive situations the rest of the half, Villanova outscored the Hawks 22-12 in the final 8:22 to take a 39-35 lead into the locker room.
“That was a big part of the game,” Wright said. “As everyone knows, he’s a very, very difficult guy to contain. Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins came in and those guys really did a good job. … We actually went to another level with those guys. That was big because it gave us separation. That was big because in this environment, you’re down at halftime, the fans are crazy, it’s a little different coming out in the second half.”
And St. Joe’s problems continued with Kanacevic back in the lineup after the break, as Villanova scored the first eight with the Hawks missing their first four field goals on the way to running off 20 of the first 25 points of the second half to take a commanding 59-40 lead with 14:49 left.
“We hurt ourselves with missed layups, missed foul shots, a wild shot to begin the half,” Martelli said. “We have now the toughest time of the year going to exams. I know we’re better than we played and we’ll show that.”
St. Joe’s will take a break for exams now, which probably is a good thing. The Hawks will return to Hagan on Dec. 18 against Drexel.
Villanova likely wishes it can return to the court sooner than Dec. 15 when the Cats will host La Salle.
Both teams will have some time to reflect on a historic game in a rivalry. There was a 29-point victory by the Cats on Jan. 28, 2002 when they scored the most ever against St. Joe’s, 102-73.
And who can forget that epic game on Feb. 17, 1939 when Villanova rolled the Hawks 36-8?
But never before has the difference been 30 points.
“Everybody has to go and look at this …,” Martelli said. “There’s not free agency; we’re not trading our guys. I wouldn’t want to trade our guys. This was a benchmark and we didn’t reach that level.”
-Aaron Bracy is the Philahoops.com founder and columnist. Share your thoughts with Aaron at [email protected], @Aaron_Bracy on Twitter and/or in the comments section below.