The last two times the Seton Hall men's basketball faced a Villanova team ranked third in country, they were victorious both times. With the Wildcats coming off a month-long stretch without a single game, it looked as though the streak may stretch to three games.
Tuesday night's game saw the Pirates start strongly with Jared Rhoden and Sandro Mamukelashvili combining for 28 points in the first half. The Pirates shot 6-for-11 from three-point range and 58.3% from the field, but their continued efforts into the second half would just fall short of victory.
"It's what makes Jay Wirght probably the best college basketball coach by far," head coach Kevin Willard said. "You know exactly what he's going to run but you can't stop him. We knew what they were going to do and they made some great plays down the stretch."
Rhoden and Myles Cale got the Pirates going at the start scoring three straight three-point shots. Rhoden provided 10 of their first 18 points to open the game, but the Wildcats shot 6-for-8 from behind the arc courtesy of Cole Swider, Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels.
Down the stretch of the first half, Villanova went on a nearly six-minute scoring drought just as Mamuekalshvili found his scoring touch. His first three-point basket was the fourth consecutive scored by the Pirates and started to fight for the lead in the game.
A late resurgence from the Wildcats saw them regain a foothold in the game despite their scoring drought, and an 8-3 run to end the half saw them take a three-point lead at 38-35 into the break.
The second half told a similar story of a tight game between two sides clearly up to the task at hand. As Villanova switched to a more perimeter defense, Seton Hall adjusted thier offense to attack the net more often.
As the second half wore away, Villanova began to separate from the Pirates with strong play off the board and taking advantage of second-chance points. Villanova scored five compared to Seton Hall's four in the second half for their biggest lead of the game at nine points.
Shavar Reynolds, however, still had something to say to pull the game back for the Pirates. His first three-point basket of the night clawed the game back within four points before he responded to a Villanova three-point basket with a mid-range jumper.
With the game tied at 74-74 with just 1.9 seconds remaining in the game, Reynolds pulled up for another mid-range jumper that bounced back into play off the rim. In the scrap for possession, Seton Hall fouled Villanova and handed them the opportunity to seal the game from the line. Cole Swider scored one of his two free throws, but the Pirates still had 1.6 seconds to in-bound the ball and win the game.
Takal Molson lobbed a ball into the Villanova half where Mamukelashvili just let the pass slip out of his hands for a turnover on the Wildcats' favor. Visibly distraught, Mamukelaskvili walked away from the play with hands on his head wondering how he let the play slip.
"Losing is the worst thing in the world, you know, I hate losing," Mamukelashvili said. "But we learned a lot from this game and fought. I feel like the biggets takeaway from this game is that we're a great team, we got battle every night and we're showing everybody what we can do."
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl would add another point for Villanova from the free throw line to seal the 76-74 win for the Wildcats.
"It was a tough game," Mamukelashvili said. "I won't question referees. When you play hard, that kind of stuff happens. Coach drew an amazing play and the ball just slipped out of my hand. We're going to bounce back against Butler."
Justin Sousa can be reach at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinSousa99.