Villanova Routs North Texas to Advance to Sweet 16 in 2021 NCAA Men's Tournament

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistMarch 22, 2021

Villanova's Justin Moore (5) is defended by North Texas' Javion Hamlet (3) during the first half of a second-round game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 21, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Darron Cummings/Associated Press

Villanova's run in the 2021 NCAA men's basketball tournament will continue after an easy 84-61 win over North Texas in the South Region on Sunday.

Villanova entered the tournament with serious question marks because of injuries. Collin Gillespie tore his MCL on March 3 against Creighton. Justin Moore injured his ankle against Providence on March 6, though he did play in the round of 64 on Friday.

Moore struggled against Winthrop with 15 points on 5-of-13 shooting, but Jeremiah Robinson-Earl picked up the slack with 22 points and 11 rebounds in that game.

The Mean Green made the tournament for the first time in 11 years this season. They stunned No. 4 seed Purdue in the round of 64 on Friday. Head coach Grant McCasland's ferocious defense held the Boilermakers to 36.2 percent shooting.

The Wildcats looked like they might be in trouble early when they trailed 21-13 after the first nine minutes. Head coach Jay Wright's squad went on a 34-6 run to take a 20-point lead into halftime, and it never looked back.

Villanova shot 60 percent overall and 60 percent from three-point range (9-of-15) in the first half. Four starters scored at least 10 points.


Notable Game Stats

  • Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Nova): 18 points (8-14 FG), 6 assists, 6 rebounds
  • Jermaine Samuels (Nova): 15 points (5-9 FG), 9 rebounds, 4 assists
  • Justin Moore (Nova): 15 points (6-12 FG), 5 assists, 4 rebounds
  • Caleb Daniels (Nova): 11 points (4-7 FG)
  • Javion Hamlet (UNT): 25 points (8-16 FG), 6 rebounds, 4 assists
  • Mardrez McBride (UNT): 11 points (4-8 FG), 3 assists, 3 rebounds
  • James Reese (UNT): 10 points (4-15 FG), 2 rebounds


Balanced Wildcats Dominate in Win

Prior to the start of the NCAA tournament, Villanova was something of an unknown because of injuries on the roster. Gillespie's season ended because of a torn MCL.

John M. Bishop @JohnBishop71

I know Winthrop & North Texas are not exactly Duke & Michigan State but the ability of Villanova's teams to play with such poise & consistency has always been impressive. Let's face it, when Gillespie went down a lot of people wrote off Nova. Never write off Nova.

Moore, who took Gillespie's spot in the starting five, sprained his ankle in the Wildcats' next game. He didn't miss any time after that, but it wasn't clear how the injury might impact him going forward.

At least through the first two tournament games, Villanova is doing just fine. The team had a strong second half to hold off Winthrop in the round of 64. It did come out of the gate Sunday looking sluggish but didn't take long to turn on the jets.

NCAA March Madness @marchmadness

Perfect ball movement from NOVA 👏 @NovaMBB | #MarchMadness https://t.co/KQwqUETLR3

Overtime Heroics: Villanova @OTHVillanova

Villanova ends the half on a 34-6 run! This is the best we have looked all season and I am 100% here for it! #NovaNation

Overtime Heroics: Villanova @OTHVillanova

Villanova Fans: We don't have any shooters Everyone on Villanova tonight: https://t.co/d8fmCzzsrn

Ball movement was a big part of what made the Wildcats successful Sunday. They had 19 assists on 31 field goals.

Caleb Daniels, who had 10 points in the round of 64 and averaged 9.8 points during the regular season, had 11 points against the Mean Green.

When Daniels scores at least 10 points, Villanova has gone 11-3 this season. He had plenty of support on Sunday. After being held to 11 points Friday, Jermaine Samuels bounced back with 15 points and nine rebounds.

Moore was involved in a lot of Villanova's offense Sunday. He had 15 points, four rebounds, five assists and didn't commit a turnover in the win.

Looking ahead to the Sweet 16, things figure to get decidedly more difficult for the Wildcats. They will be taking on Baylor, the No. 1 seed in the South Region. The Bears have won their first two tournament games by an average of 18.5 points.

The last two times Villanova has advanced past the Sweet 16, it went on to win the national title in 2015-16 and 2017-18.


North Texas' Dream Season Ends

Even though the end result wasn't what North Texas was hoping for, there's no way to classify this season as anything but a success for the program.

The Mean Green were predicted to finish second in Conference USA, behind Western Kentucky, in the preseason poll. They wound up in fifth place at the end of the regular season but earned an automatic berth in the Big Dance by winning four straight in the conference tournament, including a 61-57 win over the Hilltoppers in the championship game.

Outside expectations were low coming into the Big Dance with a first-round matchup against No. 4 Purdue. North Texas wound up stunning the Boilermakers 78-69 on Friday to earn the program's first-ever NCAA tournament win.

NOTSportsCenter @NOTSportsCenter

“The Big Ten is the best basketball conference in the country” Oral Roberts and North Texas: https://t.co/swe8Es4ykc

SportsCenter @SportsCenter

Javion Hamlet was a 2-star recruit who received no Division I scholarship offers coming out of high school. Yesterday, he scored 24 points, 12 rebounds and 5 assists in 13-seed North Texas' upset over 4-seed Purdue. 🗣 "Rankings mean nothing!" —@DwyaneWade https://t.co/c7G1FNmq3a

Sunday's final score was very lopsided, but North Texas was doing all it could to compete. It was just matched up with an opponent doing everything right.

John M. Bishop @JohnBishop71

I know Winthrop & North Texas are not exactly Duke & Michigan State but the ability of Villanova's teams to play with such poise & consistency has always been impressive. Let's face it, when Gillespie went down a lot of people wrote off Nova. Never write off Nova.

McCasland has done a fantastic job of building up this program over the past four seasons. He took over the Mean Green prior to the 2017-18 campaign when they were coming off five consecutive non-winning seasons, including an 8-22 mark in 2016-17.

McCasland had an immediate impact on the Mean Green, and he's continued to make this basketball program better with each successive season. He will have work to do rebuilding the roster before next season. Mardrez McBride is the only non-senior in the starting five.

Losing four starters is a significant hurdle, but McCasland has proved he can coach up this program under any circumstance and make it a competitive group.


What's Next?

Villanova will face Baylor in the Sweet 16 on March 27 or 28.


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