Dear ‘Nova Nation,
This one hurts. A lot.
To kick off the opening 6 minutes & 53 seconds of the 2023-‘24 Villanova Wildcats’ ninth Big East (road-) game, they held the Butler Bulldogs scoreless and jumped out to an early 11-0 lead. Until the final 7 minutes & 16 seconds of regulation, the visitors were in firm control; surviving offensively through the stellar play of Eric Dixon (who had 28 points) and thriving defensively to build a 12-point lead; 52-40. With 7:16 remaining (in the game), the Bulldog’s 6-foot 1-inch senior guard, DJ Davis, decided to join the party by drilling a deep three-ball that was enough to cut the ‘Nova lead to 9.
Davis, who drained 5 second-half three-balls in 6 minutes and 15 seconds (from the 7:16 to 1:01 mark), was spectacular for the home team; finishing the double-OT comeback victory with 28 points on 10-of-20 shooting including 5-of-11 from three-point territory. Although Davis could heat up at the perfect time, ‘Nova hung in there for a while; as the ‘Cats had an 11-point lead with 4:45 remaining, 59-48, and a 5-point advantage when the game clock read 76 seconds (left to play). Unfortunately, the away team squandered every one of their chances to close out the hosts; blowing a pair of (separate) 4-point leads during OT and double-OT in addition to theirs in regulation before falling to the Indianapolis natives by 7.
Before the Bulldogs’ 6-foot 7-inch small-forward, Jahmyl Telfort took off towards the basket and forced OT by slamming-home an uncontested dunk with 5 seconds remaining in regulation, the Wildcats failed to extend their lead to a two-possession ballgame when an uninspiring offensive-possession led to a contested-fadeaway elbow-jumper from Eric Dixon that missed. While it’s true ‘That Nova Nation has every reason to be thoroughly outraged by their team’s offensive possession that (ended in the Dixon; and) preceded Telfort’s game-tying dunk, what was most disappointing to me regarding ‘Nova’s antics has to be the squad’s defense in the final 20 seconds of regulation and OT. Frankly, ‘Nova’s unwillingness to contest both of the Bulldogs’ game-tying scores is revealing in and of itself.
Apparently, ‘Nova didn’t get the message loud-&-clear (enough) following Butler’s (first) uncontested, game-tying finish at-the-rim during the final 5 seconds of regulation; when that nearly exact event repeated itself in the final 5 seconds of OT as Butler’s DJ Davis went untouched with the ball before laying it in the hoop to force double-OT. In an eerily similar series of unfortunate events that occurred during regulation and OT, the trailing Bulldogs were facing a 2-point deficit when they gained possession of the ball and proceeded to call timeout as the game-clock struck precisely 20 seconds (left); before reentering the game and tying it with an uncontested point-blank finish to stay alive on both occasions.
More incredible than that, however, had to be how bent out of shape the Wildcats’ defenders were on both possessions. As Telfort and (then) Davis drove the ball from the perimeter to the basket, the Wildcats’ defenders were so fixated on defending the (-ir own man who was on the) perimeter that they lost sight of the ball and never came close to reacting quickly enough. At some level, Neptune and the Wildcats’ defenders were respecting Butler’s three-point shooters in that situation for the right reasons. In other words, the ‘Nova defense did everything in their power to force Butler to attack their interior; (or) not shoot a three-ball. Up a deuce, ‘Nova wanted to make sure they couldn’t lose the game right there and then; by how they chose to aggressively close-out on Butler’s perimeter players.
While that logic is all good and well, any defense in that specific situation has one job. One job that they need to keep in-mind & do above all else:
No Easy Baskets.
In that defensive situation, you have to make your opponent earn everything. Above all else, this means throwing your body between the ball-handler and the basket; and choosing to foul them close to the basket if you're clearly at a disadvantage. In ‘Nova’s first failed attempt to protect its 2-point lead, Jordan Longino overplayed Jahmyl Telfort; as the Butler ball-handler was triple-threating the basketball and standing multiple feet beyond the 3-point line. Once Longino was virtually on top of him and crowding the Butler player’s left-side with his own body, Telfort responded to the unnecessary pressure by putting the ball on the deck; easily flying past Longino and using his strong-hand to get all the way to the cup without a hint of resistance. Astonishingly, not one of Longino’s teammates actually made an attempt to either challenge the shot or foul Telfort in that pivotal moment. In overtime, Davis capitalized on the same meltdown, mistake, error, or whatever you want to call it. I don't care what you call it. As far as I know, it was ugly and far too easy (if you're 'Nova).
As Eric Dixon was doing all he could to lead the ‘Cats to a road victory, his co-captain, Justin Moore, was a completely different story. Although the struggling guard saw a lot of game-time (40 of 50 minutes) and was a solid presence on both ends of the floor (at times) with how he created for his teammates and helped defensively, the fifth-year guard was unable to score the basketball; dropping just 5 points on 2-of-12 shooting. With the help of Villanova’s other starters, they were able to stay afloat offensively for the most part against Butler; but the absence of Justin Moore as a strong scoring-punch is a huge concern. Furthermore, Moore’s reduced play is costing his team; certainly putting a ceiling on it more than any member of ‘Nova Nation would like to admit it has. That said, I still have a ton of faith in the fifth year guard.
Keep playing hard, Justin.
That silky-smooth jumper of yours is about to turn the corner.
Let’s go ‘Nova