Ryan Arcidiacono’s complete statistical line might read this way: 15 points, seven rebounds, four assists and a 9.8 grade from Olympic judges on the double-Axel he took over the press table, headfirst into the Madison Square Garden stands.
“I thank my parents. I have a hard head,” the Villanova guard said after his team beat Providence, 76-68, on Friday night and advanced to a second consecutive Big East Tournament championship game. “I’ve done worse when I was younger. I enjoy it, I like it and I embrace it.”
Said coach Jay Wright, “He does it in practice every day. He does. He did it in high school. I love it.”
In the grand scheme, Arcidiacono’s flying dive for a loose ball with 14:50 left in the second half did not affect the outcome. Providence scored right after that to cut the Wildcats’ lead to 43-36. It was representative, though. It showed how tough these games are.
Villanova (28-4) made life extremely difficult for the opponent’s big stars, Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil. Those two shot a combined 2-for-13 from the floor and scored nine and three points, respectively. It was particularly striking to see Bentil, the big man, contained so well, considering he had looked unstoppable with 38 points against Butler on Thursday (and had scored 31 against Villanova in the second regular-season meeting). He fouled out with 9:40 left.
Providence (23-10) did a similar job on all-Big East player Josh Hart, holding him to three points until he splurged for nine more in the final 1:26 after the game had pretty much been decided.
“I’m an old-school guy, but that was old-school Big East,” Wright said. “That was fun, man.”
While Arcidiacono graciously said that any of his teammates would have done the same thing if they were faced with a loose ball and sturdy furniture, this clearly is his kind of milieu. He has vaulted three tables in two games.
The senior grew up in Pennsylvania, watching hard-nosed Big East games. He came up big after Providence cut the deficit to two points with 6:41 left, making a steal and feeding center Daniel Ochefu for a three-point play. The latter showed some vintage Big East toughness, too, shaking off an ankle injury that kept him out of the starting lineup and having a strong second half.
Kris Jenkins led the Wildcats with 21 points and helped out on the aggressive switching, helping defense against Bentil.
“They did their part,” Bentil said. “They followed the scouting report, trying to make me uncomfortable. At the end of the day, it was a good game. It’s definitely a learning process, knowing that teams are going to focus on you and try to get you out of your game. I give it up to them. They’re a great team. They made tremendous plays.”
One play just soared higher than the rest.