By Annie Ross
Villanova’s No. 4-ranked Wildcats got a taste last night in Newark of how much better the Big East has become.
Ryan Arcidiacono hit a go-ahead layup with 32.4 seconds to play and foul-plagued Daniel Ochefu made a crucial block to preserve the lead as the Wildcats held off another Seton Hall upset bid with a 72-71.
“They’re just big in the big games,” coach Jay Wright said of his seniors. “Ryan makes the big shot and Daniel makes the big block. The older guys have been there.”
The win was the ninth in a row overall and 22nd straight in the Big East Conference for Villanova (17-2, 7-0), which tried its best to give away the game in the closing seconds.
Josh Hart (above) had 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Wildcats. Kris Jenkins scored 12, and Arcidiacono and Mikal Bridges added 10 apiece.
Isaiah Whitehead had 21 points for Seton Hall (13-5, 3-3). Khadeen Carrington scored 17 and Desi Rodriguez added 14 for the Pirates, who were coming off a win over then-No. 12 Providence on Saturday.
“We lost,” Whitehead said. “There’s really not a lot of good we can say about it. We played hard and lost. They made the big plays in the last minute and that’s why they won. ”
Both teams had chances to take control after Arcidiacono gave the Wildcats a 71-69 lead with his layup.
“I had it in my mind what I was going to do,” Arcidiacono said. “If they helped on me, I was going to Kris or Jalen (Brunson), but I just kept the ball and ended up getting a layup.”
Ochefu came up big on the next possession, blocking a layup attempt by Derrick Gordon with about 20 seconds to go.
Ochefu was fouled, but he missed two free throws with 18.8 seconds left and the Pirates had another chance.
A running one-hander by Whitehead with about 10 seconds remaining didn’t go in, and Whitehead and Bridges tied up the ball on the rebound. The possession arrow was pointing to Villanova.
On the ensuing inbounds play, Brunson threw the ball away with 8 seconds left, but Gordon did the same thing several seconds later to give Villanova the ball back.
Hart hit the first of two free throws with 5.1 seconds left to push the lead to 72-69. Whitehead was fouled bringing the ball upcourt with 2.7 seconds left and he unexpectedly made both free throws, leaving Seton Hall behind by a point.
Villanova threw the ball the length of the court on the inbounds play. Whitehead was able to get it, but his long shot from beyond halfcourt at the buzzer never came close.
“We need games like this down the stretch. Grind out games and get the wins, just like this,” Hart said.
Villanova led most of the game and only gave up the lead late when Whitehead scored eight straight points, hitting a 3-pointer with 2:28 to go to put the Pirates ahead 69-67.
Ochefu missed a baseline shot on the Wildcats’ next possession but Hart got the rebound and Ochefu made a layup to tie the score at 69 with 1:57 to play.
Villanova used its long-range shooting to build a 27-17 lead with less than 8 minutes to play in the first half, but Carrington scored 10 straight to help Seton Hall close the gap to 35-33 at the break.