Villanova overcomes 21-point deficit thanks to the 'Microwave'
PHILADELPHIA -- Following the biggest, most remarkable comeback he could remember in his basketball career, Wildcats' backup guard Malcolm Grant barely cracked a smile. He spoke softly and -- yawn -- gave his teammates credit for overcoming a 21-point deficit to beat LSU, 68-67, in the first Big East/SEC Invitational on Thursday night.
Despite Grant's humble public persona, there is a reason his teammates have nicknamed him "Microwave."
He clearly knows how to make a game sizzle.
The once overshadowed player from a public school in Brooklyn, N.Y., came off the bench Thursday night to score a game-high 18 points in 16 minutes and spark an unlikely come-from-behind victory. Trailing 64-49 with just under three minutes to play, Villanova used a 19-3 run to win the game. Grant accounted for 14 of those points and added a steal and an assist.
"The guys always say, 'Malcolm you bring us great energy,' " he said, "and that's what I wanted to do, just try to help the team in any way."
Junior forward Dante Cunningham scored the game-winner on a layup with 5.9 seconds to play, and the final score was Villanova's only lead of the game.
"We were terrible," Villanova coach Jay Wright said with a smile. "We played with great heart, and of course Malcolm. Malcolm was incredible.
"I can't remember winning one like that. They had us."
And they completely blew it.
"We're not very experienced," said LSU coach John Brady, who in 2006 had his team in the Final Four. "We don't know how to win yet, and it was obvious tonight."
With less than nine minutes to play, LSU guard Terry Martin hit a 3-pointer that put the Tigers up by 21 points. Villanova kept chipping away, but it wasn't until the Wildcats got within six points with about two minutes left to play that Wright said he thought his team had a legitimate chance to win. Until then, he admittedly hung his hopes on a tired cliché -- play 40 minutes.
"That's really all you can do at that point," he said. "You don't know what's going to happen, but you've gotta say, 'Let's make sure we play 40 minutes.' "
The most hyped freshmen on Villanova's roster -- guards Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher -- are from the same area as Grant and stole most of the preseason spotlight from him. Stokes, from St. Benedict's Prep in New Jersey, was a McDonald's All-American. Fisher, from the Bronx, was named New Jersey's Player of the Year.
"This guy was New York city's public league player of the year," Wright said of Grant. "He was a pretty good player. We all knew that. If you've ever seen him play AAU ball, he put up 50, 40 you know he's capable. There was no doubt when we were going down the stretch [that] once he got it going, that we were going to stick with him because he could make plays."
It was not what Brady was expecting. He had planned to take away Villanova's perimeter shooting -- which LSU did -- by stifling leading scorer Scottie Reynolds. The Tigers switched screens on him, doubled him and didn't let him touch the ball.
"We know what [Grant] can do," said Reynolds, who was held to four points and had just as many turnovers. "I don't think it's a surprise. He did a great job out there. He gave us a boost out there. We needed some offensive help. LSU did a great job of not letting us come up and just shoot and try to get us in the paint.
"& They wanted other people to score besides our guards and the starting five. Him coming off the bench and igniting us like that like he did is great. Hopefully that's going to be a big step for him, and he's going to continue to grow."
Villanova needed Grant's late-game theatrics because early on, LSU completely dominated the game with its interior defense. The Tigers, which came into the game averaging 8.3 blocked shots, had 14 against the Wildcats.
"They blocked 14 shots?" Cunningham said. "I didn't even see that."
"I saw it," Wright said. "I saw it all night."
It reminiscent of LSU's 2006 Final Four defense that beat Duke and then handled Texas inside, but clearly missing was the massive body of former LSU standout Glen Davis, a.k.a. Big Baby. The Tigers missed him by a day, as the night before, Davis came off the bench for the Celtics to score six points in a 113-103 win against the 76ers.
"In the past we were big and mean," Brady said. "Now we're long and lean. We don't have that toughness or that physicalness around the goal."
They also haven't have their best player, junior forward Tasmin Mitchell, who had surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left ankle, for five games now. Still, they've gotten along without him, and did so again Thursday night -- for about 30 minutes.
With a little persistence -- and a lot of Grant -- Villanova gave Wright his full 40 minutes.
"Hopefully we're not down 21 again with eight minutes to go, but if we are, we know we've done it," Wright said. "You can talk about that all you want in the huddle, but until you've done it, the guys don't really believe it. I think that's what, as a team, we're going to take from this."
They can also take a little comfort in knowing they've got Grant.
Heather Dinich is a college football and basketball writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Heather at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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