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NCAA Tournament Recap: Villanova holds on to defeat Saint Mary’s

The Gaels keep it close with the defending champs.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round- Villanova vs Saint Mary’s Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Saint Mary’s is no stranger to be a giant slayer in postseason basketball. After defeating the No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs in the WCC finals, Randy Bennett’s team drew the defending national champion, Villanova Wildcats. But this time, Goliath came out on top with a 61-57 Villanova victory on Thursday night.

Saint Mary’s opened the game a bit shaky with two turnovers on their first two possessions, which allowed the Wildcats to jump out to an 8-2 lead. The Gaels would then go on a 7-0 run of their own holding the Wildcats without a point for 4:53, giving them a 13-11 lead.

Then it was the Gaels turn to feel cold from the court. Saint Mary’s didn’t hit a shot for over two-and-a-half minutes, whereas Villanova’s Eric Paschall began to feel it from the field, making back to back buckets to give the Wildcats a 17-13 lead.

The game went back and forth as Malik Fitts and Tommy Kuhse both came up huge for Saint Mary’s, scoring 10 of 13 over a five minute period, culminated by a Fitts step-back jumper to put them up two with 44 seconds left. After a Jay Wright timeout, Villanova star Phil Booth missed a game-tying jumper. The Gaels led 30-28 at the half.

Saint Mary’s won the battle of the boards in the first half, out-rebounding Villanova 17-13.

The Wildcats came out the gates of the second half with a quick jumper by Booth followed by an old fashioned three point play to go on a personal 5-0 run. After a Jordan Ford three, Villanova was out and running on another 7-0 run punctuated with a fast break slam by Jermaine Samuels, which led to a quick timeout by Randy Bennett with his Gaels trailing 40-33.

After the under 16 timeout, Malik Fitts made a three to bring the game back within four points, but Paschall drained a three of his own to extend the Wildcat lead to 45-38.

Both teams went on another long draught from the field. The score would be stuck at 47-42 for over three minutes. Paschall would end Villanova’s drought with a three from the top of the key with 7:43 to play.

Tommy Kuhse drilled a big-time three with just under six minutes to play to bring the Gaels within three points at 50-47, but Nova’s Booth made a three to extend the lead back to six. And with 1:20 left Jermaine Samuels collected the ball after a Jordan Ford block and drove the lane scoring plus the foul to give them a 59-51 lead.

With less than a minute to play, Villanova missed multiple front ends of the one and one, but with five seconds to go Jordan Ford lost the ball to give the Cats the win.

Villanova advances to play the winner of 3-seed Purdue and 14-seed Old Dominion.