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Penn vs. Villanova recap: Sloppy Wildcats pull away from Penn late

Late game push allows Jay Wright to avoid a major scare.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn't pretty, but it ended comfortably. The Villanova Wildcats overtook the Penn Quakers by a score of 77-54. Darrun Hilliard led all scoring with 19 points on 5-10 shooting from the floor. The Wildcats never trailed in the game.

The 'Cats got off to a hot start with an 11-0 run for the first 4:30 of play, with the first 14 point coming from Hilliard and James Bell alone. Penn ended that run with their first basket, a jumper by Darien Nelson-Henry at the 15:29 mark. At the first TV Timeout, Villanova was shooting 43% from the field.

Daniel Ochefu was removed from the starting lineup for unspecified academic reasons. Tony Chennault took over the starting role, but failed to seize the opportunity. He finished with 0 points on 0-3 shooting, and 3 assists. Chennault looked for his shot to begin the game, which is not part of the offensive strategy we've seen from him. After two quick misses, he resorted back to his facilitator role.

Ochefu subbed in for JayVaughn Pinkston at the 13:42 mark and only stayed in for two and a half minutes. He totaled 12 minutes in the game, accumulating 3 points (all on free throws), 3 rebounds and 3 assists.

Villanova took a 46-28 lead at the half. They shot 41.4% from the field, 44.4% from 3, and 82.4% from the charity stripe. Penn shot 33.3%, but 55.6% from behind the arc. Nova attempted 17 free throws compared to the Quaker's 3 attempts.

Tony Hicks of the Quakers was seen as the potential X-factor, as the guard was averaging 19.0 ppg coming into the contest. However, 3 first half fouls led him to the bench early, and he would only finish with 1 point. Miles Cartwright-Jackson took over the scoring role, finishing with 17 points -14  of which came in the opening half on four straight 3-pointers. The Quaker guard believed Hicks' lack of play-making did not affect him.

"I come into every game with the same mentality. The way [the Wildcats] were pressing I just wanted to be aggressive."

Cartwright-Jackson was averaging 11.8 points/game this season before tonight.

Villanova managed to score 31 points in the second half on only 6 field goals. They shot 17-23 from the free throw line to keep at least an 8-point distance from Penn throughout the second half. Pinkston was 11-14 from the line for the game, finishing with 13 points on just one made field goal. Wright compared the second half of this game to the first half against Iowa.

"We turned the ball over on our first three or four possessions. It's being lackadaisical in the basics. We started the Iowa game that way. We are not a finished product at all."

Penn guard Tony Bagtas got his first start of the season, playing all of the first half and all but 4 minutes of the entire game. He ended up tallying 7 point, 9 assists and 6 rebounds. Head coach Jerome Allen praised his play.

"I thought he played at the right pace. I thought he didn't allow [Villanova] to rush him. He tried to cover the objective. He's only gonna get better."

Ryan Arcidiacono's shooting woes came with him on the plane ride back from the Bahamas. Arch's 3-pointer with 4:01 remaining in the second half was his only made field goal. He finished 1-10, 9 of those attempts behind the arc. On a positive note, he turned the ball over only once in 33 minutes of play, with the Wildcats turning the ball voer 15 times to the Quakers' 24. We've seen Villanova's offense hindered by poor 3-point efficiency before, and the Wildcats shot 18.2% from behind the arc in the second half. In that time, Penn gained the ability to climb back from 18 down to only 8 with 6:42 remaining.

Luckily for the 'Cats, their defense stayed stingy throughout against an overmatched Penn team, and the free throw shooting came alive at the end to make the margin of victory closer to what was expected early in the game. Over half of the Wildcats' offense in the second half came from made free throws, in which they sank 73.9% of their attempts. The first half saw free throws make up less than 33% of the points.

Four Wildcats finished with double digits - Pinkston (13), Darrun Hilliard (19), James Bell (14) and Dylan Ennis (11). The Quakers only finished with two players in double figures.

Villanova ended the game with an 18-4 run which concluded on a Dylan Ennis foul-and-1 breakaway layup.

I want to mention that at the 12-minute mark, Will D. Cat sat next to me and gave me a fist bump. From that point, Penn failed to make a field goal for over 4 and a half minutes. Here's to more mascot visits!

Also worth noting that Jay Wright said these blatantly false words: "I would like to humbly concede to Jerome. He's the best dressed coach in the Big 5. I love his outfits, I just can't wear that."

Villanova's next matchup is Saturday, December 7th against the St. Joseph's Hawks. It will be the first road true road atmosphere for the Wildcats. The game will air on CBS Sports Network at 6 pm ET. St. Jo's dropped one versus the Temple Owls this evening by a score of 77-69.