Thursday, March 18, 2010
Providence, R.I. Scottie Reynolds learned a lesson starting the game on the bench.
Once in the game, he delivered a teachable moment of his own to 15th-seeded Robert Morris: Don't let a Final Four-tested team like Villanova off the hook.
Reynolds was benched, his shot wasn't falling and his Wildcats were on the brink of having their NCAA tournament run end in the biggest of upsets. He responded with a clutch performance at the foul line in the final minutes of regulation, and No. 2 seed Villanova survived a scare from Robert Morris in a 73-70 overtime victory Thursday in the NCAA tournament.
"I always think we're going to win, I always think we're going to find a way," coach Jay Wright said.
Trailing 55-47 with 4:19 left in the second half, Reynolds attacked the basket and led a fearless rally from the free-throw line. His reliable stroke was absent, but he never stopped hustling in the second half, and Reynolds' sliding save of a loose ball at Robert Morris' end led to two free throws that cut the lead to 55-51.
The Colonials (23-12) coughed up the ball again, Reynolds was fouled again and he delivered again on both attempts from the line and it was 55-53 with 2:10 left.
Robert Morris committed their 21st turnover and — notice a pattern? — fouled Reynolds. Two more from the line and it was tied 55-all with 1:48 left in regulation.
All those missed jumpers — Reynolds was 2 of 15 from the floor — seemed forgotten.
"He is a live-by-the-sword, die-by-the-sword kind of guy," Wright said. "And I'll die by his sword any time because we've won so many. Even when he was missing them, I was saying, 'If that's how we're going to go down, I'll go down with him any time.'"
The Wildcats (25-7) weren't going down. They'll play 10th-seeded Saint Mary's, which beat Richmond 80-71, on Saturday.
Karon Abraham scored 23 for Robert Morris, which was on the brink of becoming only the fifth No. 15 seed to beat a No. 2 and the first since 2001. Abraham let fly a 25-footer in OT that cut it to 71-70 with 10.2 seconds left, but Mezie Nwigwe's off-balance 3 at the buzzer was no good.
The Northeast Conference champion Colonials left the court to a standing ovation — even from Villanova's mascot.
The Wildcats, trying to reach their second straight Final Four, entered having lost five of seven and were a surprising pick for the No. 2 seed in the South Regional.
That was only the start of the shockers.
First came the news that Reynolds, their team leader and top scorer had been benched. Then Robert Morris nearly sent them all packing way earlier than expected.
Wright made the bold move to sit Reynolds at the start of the game to make a "teaching point." He declined to reveal the reasons behind the disciplinary action against Villanova's leading scorer.
Reynolds said he got the message.
"You have to be excellent all the time, put it like that," Reynolds said. "You can't have any flaws, even if it's so minor, even an inch, because that's the margin of victory."
Reynolds and Corey Fisher were both benched for the start, but their punishment didn't last long. Reynolds sat out 4 minutes and Fisher checked in about 30 seconds later.
Reynolds hit his only 3 of the game in OT to give the Wildcats a cushion, and although Abraham kept the Colonials close, it wasn't enough.
"There's nothing to be afraid of," Abraham said. "They put on a jersey, just like I put on a jersey."
Abraham, a 5-foot-9 guard with a mohawk, put most of the soldout crowd solidly behind Robert Morris in the second half on a pair of highlight reel plays. His first came from just beyond the arc, he banked an off-balance 3 and crashed to the court on a foul. He made the free throw for the rare four-point play and a 42-34 lead.
He followed that by scooting down the baseline and tossing up a one-handed layup that went up and in for an eight-point lead and brought out cheers of "Robert Morris! Robert Morris!"
"When he hit that (bank), 'Oh my God,'" Wright said.
The Colonials came out firing from 3-point range in an early attempt to rattle the Wildcats. Abraham sank his first three 3s — a run-and-shoot from way beyond the arc brought the fans to life — and helped them take a lead they wouldn't relinquish until there was 1:48 left.
Robert Morris led 28-22 at halftime, but never could build the lead to double digits, even with a 21-10 edge on the boards and holding the Wildcats to only 30 percent shooting at the break.
For all the Colonials did right, they did just as much wrong. Those early 3s from Abraham helped, but the Colonials missed their next eight attempts. Robert Morris turned the ball over a whopping 21 times to keep the Wildcats in the hunt.
"I'm never going to forget us playing Villanova, almost beating Villanova, up by six with 2 minutes left in the game," forward Dallas Green said. "I'll never forget that experience. That's it."