VILLANOVA (AP) — His jersey had a different number. His last name was stripped from the back.
By the time Providence squandered every bit of its 19-point lead, the Friars didn’t need a new scorecard to tell who was doing the damage.
In a makeshift uniform, JayVaughn Pinkston led Villanova on a comeback to remember.
Pinkston had 28 points and 14 rebounds, and scored the final nine points to help Villanova rally from a 19-point deficit and stun Providence 74-72 on Tuesday night.
The Wildcats mobbed each other at center court. The Friars were left dazed.
Pinkston’s powerful run gave the Wildcats (11-13, 4-8 Big East) their wildest victory of the season and snapped a three-game losing streak. He simply dominated down the stretch, tying the game at 72-all with a big dunk off a turnover, then powered down the lane for the winning layup with 27 seconds left. He did it all with dynamic guard Maalik Wayns on the bench with an injured left knee.
“We expect JayVaughn to do that every night for us,” said guard Dominic Cheek. “He showed everybody today he can do that.”
Playing with stitches over his bloodied left eye that forced the uniform change, Pinkston took control of a game that appeared all but lost.
Former 76ers and Kansas coach Larry Brown rose from his baseline seat and clapped in encouragement at Pinkston after he drew a tough foul. Pinkston sank both from the line to make it 70-67. Pinkston kept the deficit at two on a three-point play and his huge dunk off Ty Johnson’s steal tied it.
He grabbed the defensive rebound on one of Providence’s final misses and finished his run with the winning layup.
Pinkston needed stitches over his left eye after taking an elbow to the face late in the first half. He returned to the court wearing No. 53 instead of his usual 22 and there was no last name on the back of the jersey.
“This kid, he’s a throwback,” coach Jay Wright. “Whatever you ask him to do.”
He was up for the task of leading Villanova’s biggest rally since it stormed back from a 21-point deficit to beat LSU 68-67 in December 2007.
“I was just going out there doing what we do, playing how we play,” Pinkston said. “I just saw an opening. Once I see an opening, I’m taking the drive.”
Dominic Cheek hit four clutch 3-pointers and scored 17 points for the Wildcats. Mouphtaou Yarou had 17 points and eight rebounds.
“We’ve just got to build on this,” Wright said.
Bryce Cotton scored 20 points for Providence (13-12, 2-10). Vincent Council had 17 and Gerard Coleman 16.
“A team that doesn’t know how to win yet, showed a way to lose,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “Our players have to feel a sense of urgency when you have a team on the ropes, on the road.”
Villanova entered 14th in the Big East standings and Providence 15th. This had the makings of a classic between two conference heavyweights.
LaDontae Henton’s 3-pointer gave Providence a 60-41 lead early in the second half, and the Friars were rolling.
The fun ended fast.
Led by Pinkston and Cheek, the Wildcats found their groove.
Cheek’s 3 cut it to 61-60 with 5:56 left. Council’s floater pushed it back to a three-point lead and snapped Providence’s streak of 14 straight missed shots over an 8:25 span.
Providence clearly needed more baskets. Cheek buried the tying 3 to make it 63-63 in front of a jubilant Villanova bench.
The Friars took the lead on free throws, even as they lost their shooting touch from the floor.
It wasn’t enough.
Wayns was helpless on the bench with a left knee injury and needed a big ice wrap to watch the second half. Wright did not know if Wayns would miss any time.
Wayns didn’t think he’d be needed after a dismal first half seemingly put this one out of reach.
After Cheek hit a 3 that put Villanova ahead 28-26, the Friars closed the half on a stunning 18-2 run. Cotton was the difference. Cotton, a 42-percent 3-point shooter, was sinking shots like they were 2-footers. He nailed two straight, let Council score a layup, then buried two more 3s for a 44-30 lead.
Villanova made only 10 of 27 shots in the first half. The Friars started 10 of 16 from the floor and finished a robust 60 percent from the floor to build that 14-point lead.
It was just the latest half to forget for Wright. The Wildcats need a stunning run to the Big East tournament championship to advance to the NCAA tournament for an eighth straight season. Two games below .500, even the NIT could be out of reach.
The second half was one to remember and shows the Wildcats might have something to play for next month.
“We didn’t do anything different,” Cheek said. “We came into the locker room and stuck to the game plan. We came out in the second half more together and more aggressive on defense.”
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