Freshmen send No. 3 Villanova surging into Providence
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Third-ranked Villanova will begin a difficult stretch of playing four of its next five games on the road with a trip to Providence Wednesday night at the Dunkin Donuts Center.
The Wildcats (23-2, 10-2 Big East) defeated Butler 86-75 on Saturday to guarantee their sixth straight season of recording at least 10 league wins. Providence is 16-9 overall and 7-5 in the league.
Even more impressive is that Villanova won again despite playing without starting guard Phil Booth (fractured bone in right hand) and forward Eric Paschall (concussion). Booth is out indefinitely and Paschall has missed the last two games.
Head coach Jay Wright has played many freshmen at once, including forwards Omari Spellman and Jermaine Samuels along with guards Collin Gillespie and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree.
Following the victory over Butler, Wright was ecstatic with the performance of his young players.
"We got great minutes out of Jermaine Samuels, Collin Gillespie and Omari getting 11 rebounds while playing 39 minutes was big," Wright said. "I'm proud of our freshmen."
The schedule doesn't get any easier, and Wright knows it.
"We're a little bit in survival mode right here," Wright said. "It's not fair to expect Jermaine, Collin and Dhamir to execute like the older guys. Jermaine and Collin missed a lot of time with their injuries. We kept things simple because they just haven't had the time on the court.
"It wasn't pretty today (against Butler) but we survived it. The simple things we did do, I thought the young guys executed well."
Villanova's leaders stepped up in a big way against Butler with Donte DiVincenzo pouring in a career-high 30 points and Jalen Brunson added 27.
The Wildcats already own a victory against Providence this season, winning 89-69 on Jan. 23 at the Wells Fargo Center.
Villanova has won the last four meetings in this series, including a 66-57 victory on the road last season.
The Friars' most recent game wound up being a disappointing 80-63 loss to visiting DePaul. Freshman Nate Watson led Providence with 14 points for Providence, which struggled with its shooting and missed its first 12 shots of the second half.
Providence was 2 for 19 from beyond the arc while missing 12 of its 13 3-point attempts in the second half.
Providence coach Ed Cooley said that his team won't dwell on the loss to DePaul, not with the third-ranked Wildcats on the way.
"You can't go in there and be a maniac. You have to show great leadership and great poise and encourage your guys to step up to the next challenge," Cooley told the Providence Journal.
Senior guard Kyron Cartwright has dished out 144 assists, giving him 594 for his career. With just six more, Cartwright will become only the third player in school history to record at least 600. He trails only Vincent Council (725) and Ernie DiGregorio (662).
Some nagging injuries have caused Cooley to shuffle the starting lineup. The Friars have rolled out eight different starting lineups this season, the most ever in Cooley's seven seasons.
Updated February 13, 2018