By Dan Gardella


New York – Around the Christmas season, there are many places that are atop the list to visit. On what is supposed to be one of the biggest days of the year to shop, old Big East foes got together for a holiday bout at Madison Square Garden.

Behind the emergence of freshman Jahvon Quinerly and leadership of Eric Paschall and Phil Booth, Villanova took down UConn 81-58 in front of 16,000 fans in the Showdown.

The first half opened with some firepower as both teams fought back and forth as if it was March. Through the first four minutes, the Wildcats held a 10-7 lead.

The Huskies, who had some magic in the same arena just a month ago in a win over Syracuse, were up to the challenge against the defending champs. Behind their solid guard play of Jalen Adams, Christian Vital, and Alterique Gilbert, Dan Hurley’s squad took their first lead of the contest eight minutes in courtesy of a Vital layup.

The teams would begin to play hot potato with the lead. The final ten minutes brought more sloppiness and carelessness than the first ten minutes, ultimately resulting in a 30-30 tie after one half. Although tied, UConn had the momentum heading into the second half, thanks to hustle plays and gritty defense.

After not seeing the floor against Kansas and playing one minute against Penn, Quinerly had six points and a turnover in ten minutes, providing depth for the guard position with usual starter Colin Gillespie inactive.

How would Villanova respond?

Well, the only way they know how. To shoot the lights out.

Shades of teams from year’s past showed on a court and in a venue that the Wildcats have reaped success in as Jay Wright would insert Quinerly again in the second half to find a spark.

After an exchange of baskets between the teams in the opening minutes of the second half gave UConn the short lead, Villanova unleashed on a 19-0 run, filled with extra passes, wide open shots, and frustration on the UConn sideline.

“We were having a tough time scoring,” Wright said. “We just started to hit shots, and we got some threes.”

After the big blow had been dealt, UConn simply could not climb out of what was at most a 27 point deficit.

“For twenty-three minutes, we were in there with the champs,” Hurley said. “We showed how far away we are from being there. It was a really brutal last seventeen minutes for us.”

Within the game-deciding run, it was Quinerly who was the facilitator, making extra passes to set up his teammates. On the defensive side, he was able to control the Huskies dominant guard trio.

“He did a great job,” Wright said. “He did a great job on the ball and off the ball.”

Quinerly, a Hackensack, New Jersey native, had career highs in minutes, points, assists, and stelas in the World’s Most Famous Arena. While it seemed like a long time coming for this sort of performance, it was always in the cards for the young guard.

“It definitely felt good being back in New York. My family came to see me play,” Quinerly said. “My coaches kept me positive, keeping me prepared. An opportunity like this will present itself. Really, I’m just learning to be a Villanova basketball player.”

For Villanova, Eric Paschall led the way with 21 points and Phil Booth had 18 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists. Quinerly had 10 points, 2 rebounds, and 4 assists along with one steal in the win.

UConn was led by Queens native Christian Vital, who had 18. Alterique Gilbert had 14 and Jalen Adams only managed to score eight points. However, the trio combined for 12 turnovers.

UConn (9-4) begins conference play on the road against USF.

Villanova (9-4) begins their own conference play welcomes DePaul to Finneran Pavilion.

PHOTO: Phil Booth

Steven Ryan/gettyimages