Villanova has no time for Cinderella.
While many tabbed the No. 5 Wildcats as an upset candidate with Collin Gillespie sidelined by injury, they handled the No. 12 Winthrop Eagles 73-63 in Friday's first round of the 2021 NCAA men's tournament at Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Justin Moore led the way for the victors in Gillespie's absence.
A solid showing from D.J. Burns Jr. and Chandler Vaudrin was not enough for the Eagles, who have not won a game in the Big Dance since the 2006-07 season.
Notable Player Stats
- Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, F, NOVA: 22 PTS, 12 REB, 5 AST, 3 BLK
- Justin Moore, G, NOVA: 15 PTS, 3 REB, 2 AST
- Jermaine Samuels, F, NOVA: 11 PTS, 7 REB, 3 AST
- D.J. Burns Jr., WIN: 12 PTS, 4 REB
- Chandler Vaudrin, G, WIN: 9 PTS, 11 REB, 7 AST
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl Leads Balanced, Methodical Effort for Wildcats
The Wildcats needed a spark with Gillespie sidelined, and they got it when Moore took the floor.
There was a time when his status was up in the air following an ankle injury near the end of the regular season, but he was healthy and ready to go Friday as the only player on either team in double figures by halftime.
Villanova needed that other scorer to emerge in the first half since Jermaine Samuels, who poured in a combined 41 points the previous two games without Gillespie, was quiet in the early going and unable to create the typical mismatches he usually does as someone who can hit from deep, cut into the basket and battle for boards.
While Samuels wasn't the go-to option that he was in previous games without Gillespie, Winthrop had no answer for Robinson-Earl.
The sophomore did a little bit of everything by protecting the rim, controlling the glass, scoring in the lane and facilitating when defenders collapsed on him. It was a pick-your-poison situation, though, because he scored on the blocks multiple times when additional defenders didn't provide much-needed help.
Robinson-Earl was the anchor, but Villanova's committee approach also saw Bryan Antoine and Cole Swider provide outside shooting from the bench and Caleb Daniels hit multiple three-pointers as a third scorer.
Samuels also got involved as the game progressed and the Wildcats found the balanced attack with a primary option leading the way in Robinson-Earl that they will need to survive and advance without Gillespie.
Winthrop's Upset Effort Stalls with Offense in Second Half
The 23-1 record entering the tournament stood out, but it was fair to question Winthrop heading into Friday's contest.
After all, it didn't play a single major conference team during the regular season and was just 119th in the country in KenPom.com's offensive rankings. Keeping up with the Wildcats, who were No. 9 in those rankings, was quite the task.
The Eagles looked up to that task from the start with balanced scoring, a willingness to push the ball in transition and a notable ability to protect the ball against Villanova's perimeter defenders. Winthrop had just three turnovers by halftime while avoiding some of the mistakes that have cost other underdogs.
Burns Jr. was also a force down low and either scored himself on the blocks or drew additional defenders to open up looks for his teammates.
His presence helped keep the Eagles within striking distance as they looked to set up a thrilling finish, but things changed when he picked up his fourth foul with around nine minutes remaining.
The offense stalled, Vaudrin started forcing the issue at times and the Big South representative fell behind by double digits for the first time all game. It also didn't help that Burns fouled out shortly after he returned to the game, forcing Winthrop to go small.
The result was just 30 points in the second half as the Eagles saw their impressive season come to an end.
The Wildcats will face the No. 13 North Texas Mean Green in Sunday's second-round clash in the South Region.