Villanova beat Rider easily tonight, with a final score of 88-67. Their lead was never in jeopardy; the only question was how much they would win by. They used their press and hot shooting to slowly demoralize Rider, stretching their lead past twenty in the second half.
The game got pretty ugly, with both teams marching to the line on almost every possession at the beginning of the second. Josh Hart finished as the high scorer for Villanova, scoring 19 on 7-8 shooting. Beyond Hart’s play, the team distributed the scoring evenly, with three players in double figures, plus Ryan Arcidiacono with 9 and James Bell with 8. In this, their final tune-up before Syracuse, the team looked confident and ready.
The team looked a bit sloppy early, turning the ball over seven times in the first half, but Rider simply could not match up with their talent. Physically, the two teams were on different levels—Villanova’s players were bigger, stronger, and faster. Villanova took the lead almost immediately and continued to build it for the rest of the game, using their trapping zone press, hot shooting, and huge rebounding advantage to slowly squeeze the life out of their opponents. They finished with nine steals as a team and continually rushed Rider into turnovers and missed shots.
Rider head coach Kevin Baggett put it best. Unprompted, the first thing he mentioned after the game was Villanova’s defense. As he said, "I think Villanova took us out of a lot of things that we wanted to do today. Those guys are really good defensively." That was the story of the game. Villanova never let Rider get comfortable running their offense.
The game turned ugly in the second half. Rider went minutes at a time without scoring a field goal, as they clanked shots and turned the ball over repeatedly. Both teams marched to the line, slowing the game into a foul-shooting contest.
But it wasn’t all hard to watch. Josh Hart, the gifted freshman, looked like the best player on the court at times, as he made a couple highlight-reel plays to go along with a pair of three-pointers. He only missed one shot on the night, going 7-8 from the field to finish with a hyper-efficient 19 points. The crowd gave a big ovation when he checked out with 4:09 left in the game (even though he came back in a couple minutes later). If he keeps this progression up, he will be remembered as one of the great players at Villanova.
There are not many flaws to pick at for an undefeated team, and Villanova owned this game from start to finish. Still, one flaw in this team stands out, even though it didn’t hurt tonight. Daniel Ochefu’s lack of aggression on offense is going to come back to bite Villanova. Ochefu has not displayed any offensive game to speak of. When Wright gets him the ball in the high post for their dribble hand-off sets, he doesn’t even look at the basket. Teams can then sag off him from ten feet and out, essentially leaving Villanova to play 4-on-5 on offense.
Wright still start him, mostly because of his defensive presence and offensive rebounding, but he needs to look to score on offense every once in a while. Otherwise, come tournament time, the better coached teams are going to exploit that weakness. The small-ball lineup of Hilliard, Bell, Hart, Arcidiacono, and Pinkston at center is much better offensively, although Wright did not use it for very long tonight. But all in all, that’s enough nitpicking—Villanova looked great tonight. Let’s enjoy being undefeated while it lasts.