It wasn't easy, but the Villanova Wildcats pulled off a gritty 92-67 win over the pesky NJIT Highlanders. Dylan Ennis led the Wildcats in their second half change with a team high 17 points and four assists. An aggressive Ryan Arcidiacono contributed with a season high 16 points, while his backup, Phil Booth, added 14 huge points, most of which were scored in a crucial second-half run to propel the Wildcats to victory.
For the well-coached Highlanders team, a balanced attack led by 13 points from Damon Lynn allowed them to take a lead for most of the first half and the beginning of the second. Ky Howard added 11 assists and Osa Izevbuwa scored 11 points off the bench for head coach Jim Engles.
Ennis scored the first points of the game for the Wildcats on a three-pointer after a sub-par game against Syracuse on Saturday. Villanova proceeded to feed the post; Daniel Ochefu was the primary recipient of sound post passing and inside-out ball movement, scoring four points in the first four minutes.
NJIT, however, quickly caught fire, shooting a whopping 60% from the field and 61.5% from the three point range in the first half. Between the 15 and 13 minute mark in the first half, the Highlanders hit three consecutive threes including a bold pull-up three in transition from NJIT's Lynn.
For the rest of the opening half, NJIT executed a methodical, patient offense to perfection. The Highlanders scored off back-cuts and quick ball movement while a lackluster Villanova defense missed assignments, overplayed on cuts, and failed to contest on most long-range attempts. Perhaps the Wildcats were missing their captain, Darrun Hilliard, who missed the game due to a concussion.
To compound Villanova's issues, an offensive foul on Ochefu with 5:33 left in the half put NJIT at the line shooting one-and-one for the rest of the half. In fact, the Wildcats' play was so lackadaisical that an irate Jay Wright picked up a technical after a questionable call in the final minutes of the first half., perhaps looking for any possible solution to invigorate his team.
The solution would eventually come in the second half, but not after a few minutes of even basketball to begin the final period. With the game tied at 51 apiece, however, Arcidiacono converted a layup and hit a three-pointer to give Villanova a five point advantage. Phil Booth added a three pointer the ensuing possession and a pair of second chance free throws from Josh Hart gave the Wildcats their largest lead at 61-51.
Following the 51-51 tie, Villanova went on a 41-16 run over the final segment of the second half to secure the victory. The Wildcats amassed enough of a lead that the 'Bench Mob' was able to get just under a minute of playing time.
Six Wildcats finished in double-digits as a result of the final run, and finished the game shooting a prolific 54% from the field. They also attempted 44 free-throw attempts, connecting on 73% of their opportunities from the charity stripe.
The Wildcats finish their non-conference play at an undefeated 12-0. Villanova will begin their conference play on the Big East opening day festivities on New Year's Eve against Butler.