By Andrew Kahn
In Villanova’s second-round loss to North Carolina State in last year’s NCAA Tournament, Phil Booth came off the bench and hit 3-of-4 three-pointers in 14 minutes. He and Darrun Hilliard were the only Wildcats to connect from downtown or, for the most part, from anywhere on the court. But in crunch time, Villanova coach Jay Wright stuck with Dylan Ennis, the starter and upperclassman, over the freshman Booth. Ennis finished 2-of-12 from the field and missed all six of his long-range attempts, including an open look that would have given Villanova the lead with 15 seconds left.READ MORE: Omicron COVID Variant Detected In Massachusetts Woman
Wright brought that up in his postgame press conference last night, after he was asked about Booth’s career-high 20-point performance in a championship victory. “Phil never complained, never said a word,” Wright said about the NC State benching. “He was feeling it in this game. We had a decision in the end. Do we go with the guy coming off the bench or Jalen Brunson, the starter, who had a great year? This time we went with Phil and it worked out.”
Booth played 25 minutes against North Carolina. He checked in with 16:13 to go in the second half and missed just two minutes the rest of the way. Other than subbing out on defense when Marcus Paige tied the game with a ridiculous three, he played the final six minutes and was a big reason why Villanova won a truly epic championship game, 77-74.
The sophomore from Baltimore hit the second-biggest shot of the game for Villanova (it was, admittedly, a very distant second). North Carolina had trimmed a 10-point deficit to three. With 3:05 remaining and the shot clock winding down, the 6’3” Booth drove right into the key, pivoted, and faded away from the 6’8” Isaiah Hicks. As the shot clock expired, his jumper passed through the net. With 35 seconds left, he knocked down two free throws—he made all six of his attempts Monday—to extend Villanova’s lead to three.READ MORE: Demand For COVID Vaccinations Rising In Massachusetts With Arrival Of Omicron Variant
Partly because of Kris Jenkins’ foul trouble, Booth got more minutes than expected. He first appeared with 14:13 left in the first half and, a few minutes later, drained a three from the right wing. He scored at the buzzer of the first half (again, the second-best end-of-half shot for Villanova), patiently navigating around defenders to hit a short jumper.
In the second half, he used the two inches he has on Paige to elevate over him for a jumper. When Paige went by him for a layup on the next possession, Booth stayed in attack mode. Brice Johnson sagged off him after a switch, and Booth buried a three. He finished 6-of-7 from the field.
Booth shot 4-of-6 (including 2-of-2 from deep) in Villanova’s semifinal rout of Oklahoma. With guard Ryan Archidiacono graduating, Booth will likely start next and year and be counted on to shoulder a bigger burden. He’ll want to develop more consistent outside shooting—he shot 49 percent on 65 attempts as a freshman but just 32 percent on 123 attempts this year—but has already shown the ability to break down his defender off the dribble. He, Brunson, and Josh Hart ensure the Villanova backcourt will remain strong next season.MORE NEWS: CNN Fires Chris Cuomo For Helping His Brother Craft Defense Against Sexual Harassment Scandal
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at andrewjkahn.com and you can find his Scoop and Score podcast on iTunes. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.