Daniel Ochefu Keeps Grabbing Rebounds, Helps Villanova Beat St. John's | Zagsblog
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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Sunday / February 5.
  • Daniel Ochefu Keeps Grabbing Rebounds, Helps Villanova Beat St. John’s

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    BY JEREMY FUCHS

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    NEW YORK — In his last two games, Villanova junior forward Daniel Ochefu has grabbed 37 rebounds.

    In the first half of No. 8 Villanova’s 90-72  victory over No. 24 St. John’s (11-4, 0-3) Tuesday evening at Madison Square Garden, the 6-foot-11 Ochefu played just nine minutes. He grabbed eight rebounds.  He finished the game with 13 rebounds in just 22 minutes, going up against St. John’s forward Chris Obekpa, who averages 8.4 rebounds per game and had just five in this game.

    The Wildcats won the rebounding battle, 41-21, including beating St. John’s 14-5 on the offensive glass. Ochefu added 13 points. In a span of 46 minutes between the game against Seton Hall and the first half of the game against St. John’s, Ochefu pulled down 33 rebounds.

    Averaging 8.7 rebounds a game, Ochefu has been on a tear of late. Against N.J.I.T in the last week of 2014, Ochefu came down with nine rebounds. On New Year’s Eve against Butler, the junior from Baltimore grabbed 10 rebounds. And against Seton Hall, Ochefu pulled down a career-high 24 rebounds, while adding 19 points. Including Tuesday’s game, Ochefu is averaging 16 rebounds over his last five contests.

    “The kid Ochefu was unbelievable,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said after Saturday’s game. “I’d like to have him.”

    An honorable mention for the ZAGSBLOG Player of the Week, Ochefu’s numbers have improved across the board from a season ago. Last year, he averaged 5.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and shot 59 percent from the field. This year, he’s averaging 10.1 points, 8.7 rebounds and is shooting nearly 65 percent from the floor.

    “I’m just going out there and grabbing boards, attacking the glass viscously ” Ochefu said after the game. “There’s no trick to what’s going on.”

    Ochefu’s rebounding skills were on full display in one moment midway through the second half. Ryan Arcidiancono missed a free throw attempt and Ochefu knocked it back to re-start the possession, leading to a three by Kris Jenkins.  A few minutes later, Ochefu pulled down a missed three by Josh Hart and emphatically slammed it home.

    “Daniel Ochefu really became a presence inside,” coach Jay Wright said after the game. “He works really hard. He keeps improving every day. He had a career-high at Seton Hall, came back to practice, just wanted to get better. Our guys look for him more. Tonight is a hard game for him to play. They’re so quick, it’s hard for a big man to play in a game like that. He did a lot of good things, just defensively. He’s really good.”

    He’s not limited to rebounds, either. Ochefu scored eight straight points down the stretch to seal the game for Villanova. He took over the second half with his play down low, including an emphatic block on St. John’s forward Christian Jones.

    “Today, it was just working off our guards,” Ochefu said. “It was a good inside out game.”

    The collegiate landscape is littered with tremendous big men, from Alan Williams at UC-Santa Barbara, who is averaging a ridiculous 11.9 rebounds a game, to star Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor, the likely 2015 No.1 overall pick. But for all of Okafor’s dominance, he and Ochefu average the same amount of rebounds per game.

    Despite his good work in the low post this season, Ochefu has not yet gained attention from the NBA. He currently ranks 62nd on DraftExpress list of eligible juniors. He is ranked ahead of Iona guard A.J. English, who has received visits from scouts.

    But to Villanova’s players, he’s a safety valve.

    “If you miss your assignment, he’s going to come and block the shot, ” guard Darrun Hilliard said after the game. “It’s a great feeling having a big guy like that in the middle, knowing he’s going to have your back no matter what.”

    Ochefu is turning into a nice passer, as well. Against the Johnnies, Ochefu grabbed a rebound, a threw it down the court to a streaking Hart for an easy bucket. He is averaging 1.1 assists per game and had four against St. John’s.

    After making the Final Four in 2009, the Wildcats have had a litany of tournament failures. In 2010, they lost in the second round. In 2011, they lost in the first. They didn’t make the tournament in 2012. In 2013, they lost in the first round and last year they lost in the second round despite being a No. 2 seed. As the best team in a radically different Big East, Villanova is long due for a tournament run. After years of going small, Ochefu is the inside presence that can help them advance back to the Final Four.

    “Oh, definitely,” Ochefu said when asked if having an interior presence will help them going forward. “Having a big guy like myself in the middle is easy for the guards to pressure the perimeter, and know I’m going to clean up their mistakes.”

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.