It may not have been a true home game for the Villanova Wildcats, and the rims were not friendly at first. But Dylan Ennis led 'Nova with 19 points as the 'Cats took care of the Lehigh Mountain Hawks 77-66 at the new PPL Center in Allentown, PA on Friday night.
Ryan Arcidiacono chipped in 16 points and seven boards, while Ochefu led the 'Cats with 9 rebounds, and Austin Price led the Hawks with 24 points.
It was a relatively dysfunctional game for both sides, with Lehigh committing 23 turnovers and Villanova missing approximately two zillion 3-pointers in the first half. But thankfully, Villanova started to hit a bit of a hot streak from behind the 3-point line--they shot 5/10 from deep in the second half, and Lehigh's lack of ball control caused their demise.
After multiple turnovers that hometown boy Darrun Hilliard was able to convert for points, Lehigh allowed Dylan Ennis and Kris Jenkins to get open for deep shots that extended a 4-point lead into a 10-point lead in no time, and JayVaughn Pinkston's emphatic and-1 bucket gave Villanova an edge that they would not relinquish.
Sophomore center Tim Kempton helped Lehigh get on the board quick with six points in the first two minutes, including one on a nice Dirk-esque jumper. The offense truly ran through Kempton early and often, as he had the first three baskets and assisted on the fourth, and Lehigh took a 10-4 lead into the first meda timeout. Ochefu was stuck on the bench for a large chunk of the first half with two fouls, and that allowed Kempton to corral some bad Hawks shots and keep Lehigh in the lead.
The Wildcat defense looked relatively strong otherwise, forcing the Hawks into many early turnovers, including a 10-second violation. Lehigh had double-digit turnovers in the first half. Josh Hart, Dylan Ennis, and Ryan Arcidiacono all saw themselves diving, jumping, or lunging to save balls from going out-of-bounds or grab loose balls. The scrappiness we've seen from Villanova in the past was not missing.
Hart and Kris Jenkins were unsurprisingly the first to come off the bench for Wright's crew, replacing Ochefu and Hilliard. Hilliard missed his first four 3-point attempts, and he was not alone in that regard. Villanova guards were certainly "sleeping in the streets" early. Arch started 1-6 and Ennis started 1-5 to go along with Hilliard's 0-4, and overall the 'Cats shot 3-23 from beyond the arc in the first half, but went into halftime with a 32-30 lead.
Sometimes the shots don't fall from deep. With Villanova, that can happen relatively often. Sometimes, the other team doesn't hit from deep either. Lehigh was 1-7 from that department in the first half. But it was clear that Lehigh did something about it.
The Hawks stormed out of the gates to start the second half and made three quick 3-pointers to open a 5-point lead over 'Nova just a few minutes in, causing Wright to call timeout.
After looking extremely sloppy in the opening minutes of the game, Lehigh started to put it all together, with lots of crisp passing and some key rebounds that led to more points, mostly thanks to Kempton. They were up 43-38 before two JayVaughn Pinkston free throws and Hilliard's first 3-pointer of the night tied the game up at 48.
Outside of missing a lot of deep shots, Arcidiacono clearly led the team through the rough stretch right after halftime. A few key steals, layups and assists gave Villanova a 54-50 lead with 10:27 left and forced Lehigh to use a timeout. Ball control was going to be key if Lehigh was going to win, and for long periods of time tonight, they lacked precision.
Hilliard and Arch helped the 'Nova defense get consecutive steals leading to a dunk and free throws, and from there the Wildcats started to pull away.
In total, four players finished in double-digits for the 'Cats: Ennis, Arch, Hilliard with 10 and Pinkston with 11. Villanova was an ungodly 15-24 (63%) from the charity stripe.
Hart chipped in six points and seven rebounds, and Pinkston added seven boards as well. Ennis shot 3-9 from deep, and Jenkins led the team with a 50 percent clip from three.
Phil Booth looked solid in his debut, both with ball-handling and passing. The moment was not too big for him, and using the extremely large sample size of one game and five minutes, I'd say he will definitely earn his minutes this year.
Neither Booth or Bridges saw significant time in the second half, likely because Wright needed to play it close to the vest with such a close game at hand.
Note: Kempton is the son of former NBA player Tim Kempton Sr., who played college ball at Notre Dame and spent time with many teams in the pros. He's currently the voice of the Phoenix Suns.
"Great atmosphere here, it's a really nice place" -Wright
"I thought Lehigh played outstanding, they really executed. We got open threes, but not the way we wanted to get them." -Wright
"Kempton's a hell of player, had a double-double while in foul trouble" -Wright
"I was a little overexcited, that's all it was. I got really amped up for the game and I'm ready to go back to Nova now" -Hilliard, on shooting poorly tonight
"I was definitely frustrated when the shots weren't going in early" -Wright, after Hilliard didn't say missing shots frustrated him
"If not for those steals, we were in a little bit of trouble there" -Wright about the change in second-half momentum
"We wound up having to play smaller, they were spreading us out. It was hard to play Daniel and JayVaughn together in that situation" -Wright, on using a smaller rotation and not getting Darryl Reynolds in
"When I was coming in, I knew he was gonna be really aggressive, so I just had to focus on my D" -Austin Price, on defending Hilliard and the hype surrounding him coming into the night
"We don't ever really get to play in front of that many fans, so it was fun to be in a room full of people and play" -Price
"When they were in a man press, there were some times where we tried to pass the ball when we could have dribbled, and it just cost us" -Price, on the team's 23 turnovers
"We're pleased to be able to perform against a team as strong as Villanova.. Our players came in with the right mentality to compete tonight. There's some very valuable things we've learned, but I'm a little disappointed because we had a chance to take an extra step." -Lehigh Coach Reed
"Villanova is such a talented team that it's tough to build a defensive plan around one of their players. Every time we did a good job closing out on the ball, they managed to get around us" -Reed