While many Lafayette students may have spent spring break partying on the beach, the men’s basketball team was busy fighting a war in Pittsburgh.
The Leopards faced off against the Villanova Wildcats in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. In a David versus Goliath matchup, Goliath won.
The one-seed moved on to the Round of 32 once again. Since the NCAA adopted the 64-team tournament in 1985, one-seeds hold a perfect 124-0 record against 16-seeds.
Villanova got off to fast start against the Leopards defense, jumping out to an 11-2 lead, less than four minutes into the game. In the first three minutes, Lafayette turned the ball over three times and failed to show the same confidence and poise that was seen throughout the Patriot League Tournament. After a timeout was taken by head coach Fran O’Hanlon, Lafayette seemed ready to play and brought the score to 14-8 with 12:21 left in the first half.
But from that point on Villanova didn’t look back. The Wildcats led at half by a score of 49-26. At one point in the second half, the lead got to be 45 points for Villanova. The final score: 93-52.
It’s easy to dismiss this win as a given for Villanova. After all, they play in the Big East, one of the powerhouse college basketball conferences. Lafayette, on the other hand, plays in the Patriot League, which produces a tournament team every year because the NCAA is required to hand out a bid to the league champion.
But the Jumbotron at the Consol Center only showed the score at the end of 40 minutes, not how it happened. Lafayette didn’t play to the standard they set at the beginning of this season.
Against Villanova, they shot just 38.2 percent from the field, compared to their season average of 48.8 percent. They were subpar from 3-point range too, making just four of 18 attempts. And as Lafayette suffered on offense, Villanova seemed to make every shot they took. Shooting 63.2 percent from the field, they bested their 47 percent season average.
Besides the shooting performances by both teams, it did seem that Villanova had an edge in the game. Villanova head coach Jay Wright would credit this edge to having played Lafayette last season.
“It was either going to be an advantage for them or us, that we played last year,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “We were down in the second half [last year]. We almost got beat…these guys are good. It was easy for us to get ready for this game. I think it was a disadvantage for Lafayette. We were determined coming off of last year’s game.”
The Leopards opened their season at Villanova last year, to which they held a 32-31 lead early in the second half game. Despite losing by 16 points, Lafayette showed that they could play with Villanova.
But it has been a year since they last played, and O’Hanlon saw a much different team.
“They’re all a year older, they’ve been in some big games and they’re just better,” O’Hanlon said. “They’re scary up close. They’ve gotten better since they’ve played Bucknell [this year]. They’re better and they’re used to playing in the bright lights.”
The Cats also shut out a big part of Lafayette’s offense. Sophomore point guard Nick Lindner had just three points, one assist and six turnovers. It’s no mistake that Villanova concentrated its defense on Lindner. He was coming off of a Patriot League Tournament where he earned MVP honors and averaged 23.7 points per game.
“They switched and they’re a long and athletic team,” said O’Hanlon. “They made it hard for Nick to get in any gaps. They have [Daniel] Ochefu sitting back there—even if you get through the first line of defense he’s a rim protector.”
Even this win comes as bittersweet for Wright, a friend of O’Hanlon’s.
“Going up against one of Villanova’s greats and going up against Lafayette wasn’t enjoyable,” Wright said. “That’s what I was worried about—either losing or this kind of game against a good friend and a great coach. We follow Lafayette all the time because of Fran, and I went to Bucknell.”
“Now I can go back to being a Villanova fan,” O’Hanlon joked.
This win shouldn’t shadow Lafayette’s accomplishments this season. They are still Patriot League champions and finished with a 20-win season. Lafayette also bid farewell to three 1,000-point scorers in Joey Ptasinski, Seth Hinrichs and Dan Trist, a bittersweet moment it itself. After Lafayette, Villanova didn’t last much longer, losing to NC State in the next round.