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NIT Season Tip-off, Akron vs. Villanova final score: Wildcats show composure in beating Zips, 75-56

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Villanova was tested early, but was able to pull away in the second half lead by Josh Hart's 27-point night.

Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Villanova Wildcats had their toughest test of the season, but were able to pull away in the second to defeat the Akron Zips 75 to 56 on Sunday at the Pavilion.  One of the great things about this Villanova team is that any one of their players can rise up and provide scoring when the team needs it.  Tonight, that player was Josh Hart.

The junior had a career high 27 points to go along with 9 rebounds and 2 steals against a tough, physical Akron team. Hart was able to score behind the arc, in the paint, and everywhere in between.  After the game, Head Coach Jay Wright said of the rising junior, "Josh hit some 3's and pulled them out, and then when they came out at him he took them to the lane and got to the rim.  He's really good at that.  It's hard to do that against teams with length like (Akron).  He's the best on our team at that, and he recognized it tonight and was great."

Ryan Arcidiacono had 15 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals as he did everything for Villanova.  But most important, this was Arch's 3rd game of the season without a turnover, giving him 22 assists to just 1 turnover on the season.  Of his senior guard, Jay Wright said, "It's really incredible numbers.  I don't want to jynx him, he's always played great offensively, but I think he's playing the best offensively he's played since he's been here.  Maybe the numbers aren't as high, but the efficiency is off the charts."

Akron came out of the gate firing, and after the game the players admitted they were surprised by how quickly they were able to get their shots off.  But as they have all season, the defense was able to grind away and wear down the Zips' offense with tenacity and depth.  Jay Wright specifically complimented his bench, saying, "Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges come off the bench defensively.  They really take us to another level defensively and they did it again tonight."

Daniel Ochefu had a difficult night down low, going just 2-8 for 4 points and 7 rebounds.  Akron had clearly scouted Villanova's first three games and weren't going to let Chef be the one to beat them.  But his teammates both commented on how their big nights wouldn't be possible without his efforts.  "When we gave it to him in the post he made great plays.  He was able to kick out opposite and get shots for other people.  That's something the stat sheet doesn't cover." said Hart.  Arcidiacono added, "Daniel played a great game... he drew all the defenders and just opened everything up."

Kris Jenkins hit three second half 3's and finished with 11 points.  Jalen Brunson added 9 points, including a perfect 3 of 3 from the line.  Mikal Bridges finished with 7 points, 3 assists, and 3 steals as he continues to contribute on both ends of the court. It truly was a collective effort on the boards as well, as 5 different Wildcats had 5 or more rebounds leading to a 44-38 rebounding advantage for the Cats.

Villanova will look to continue its success in the second leg of the NIT Season Tip-Off on Thursday in Brooklyn as they take on Stanford.

Game Flow

Akron won the opening tip and was able to score a three from the corner, showing good ball movement in their first possession.  Villanova had multiple opportunities to answer on their first possession, but couldn't convert.  On the next trip down the court, Ryan Arcidiacono was able to get open under the basket and draw a foul.  He went 1-2, getting the wildcats their first score.  After a quick turnover, Brunson was able to drive to the basket and was also fouled. he was able to hit both FT's to tie the game at 3 with 18:13 to play in the first.

Early on, both teams struggled giving up offensive rebounds and turnovers, but the Zips were able to capitalize on two quick transition buckets.  Hart answered with a score of his own, but play continued to be sloppy on both sides of the ball.  Akron sunk its third 3 of the game to go up 11-5 with 16 minutes to play in the first.

The Cats seemed to be playing with a lid on the basket as shot after shot rimmed out.  Akron had clearly scouted Nova well, and were double teaming Daniel Ochefu almost every time he got the ball in the post.  If the Zips were going to lose, it wouldn't be in the paint.

Akron continued their hot shooting out of the timeout, but Josh Hart was able to hit a 3 from the top of the key to get the crowd back in the game.  Akron answered with a 3 of their own, but Hart was catching fire, hitting another 3 from the corner.  Phil Booth forced a turnover on the sideline, and Mikal Bridges was able to turn a leaping offensive rebound into an Arcidiacono 3.  But perimeter defense continued to plague the Wildcats, as Akron hit it's 5th 3 of the game.  Akron lead 19-14 with 11:58 to play in the first.

Bridges made another great defensive play, which lead to a Hart layup at the other end.  On the next possession, Hart was able to beat his man off the dribble, cutting the Akron lead to 1.  The Zips continued to play hard though, as their Centers were well equipped to give Ochefu a challenge on both ends of the court.

The Wildcat offense started to come to life, forcing turnovers and poor shots.  Arcidiacono was able to draw a charge as well, but the Cats were met with an equal effort from the Zips at the other end of the court.  Help continued to come every time Ochefu got the ball as the Zips made it clear that he was the focus of their defensive efforts.  Akron still lead 21-18 with 9:18 to play in the first.

Out of the timeout, Akron drained another 3 off a screen, but Jalen Brunson was able to answer with a drive to the basket.  Ochefu made a huge block to get the crowd going, but the Zips were still able to score from mid-range on their next possession.  The Zips were finding open shooters, and the Wildcats would have to do the same if they wanted to stay in the game.  Akron lead 26-20 with 7:42 left in the first.

Two quick buckets for the cats, including a contested layup from Jenkins, cut the lead to 2 out of the timeout.  But then Brunson picked up his 2nd foul, and would have to spend the rest of the half on the bench.  Josh Hart came up with an Akron turnover, but was unable to hit his short from behind the arc on the other end.  Akron lead 26-24 with just under 6 minutes to play.

Ryan Arcidiacono brought the crowd to life with a diving play to get a lose ball and Ochefu was able to tip in his own miss to tie the game at 26.  Akron answered with an open 3 from the corner, but Bridges was able to answer with his own corner 3.  After a quick Akron basket, Bridges beat his defender and was fouled on his way to the basket.  He hit both FT's to tie the game again at 31 with just over 3:30 to play.

Jay Wright was very intense on the sidelines, arguing with the refs over several calls and barking out orders to his players.  The Wildcats answered with a great defensive effort and continued to drive right at the Akron defense.  Booth missed a 1-1 opportunity which gave the ball back to the Zips, still tied at 31.

Josh Hart made a great drive to hoop, getting fouled as he hit the bucket to give the Wildcats their first lead of the game at 1:49.  He hit his FT to extend the lead to 34-31.  After another Akron missed 3, Arcidiacono drove the lane to put the Cats up 5.  A quick turnover almost resulted in more points, but Josh Harts break away lay-up attempt was blocked.

Arcidiacono let the clock run down to 10 seconds left in the half, before driving, pump faking, and getting fouled to go to the line for 3 shots.  He went 2-3 to put Villanova ahead 38-31 at the half.

Nova came back out in the second looking to extend their lead.  Jalen Brunson drove to the line and hit the And 1, and Hart continued his scoring with a great transition move for 2.  Hart stayed hot as he continued to show off his dirbble drive skills, easily finishing at the basket.  The Wildcats started the second with a 9-1 run and were visibly frustrating Akron.  Nova lead 47-32 with 16:29 to play.

The refs were getting an earful from both sides early in the second.  For Villanova, Kris Jenkins, Brunson, and Ochefu all had 3 fouls by the 15 minute mark.  But while they were on the bench, Hart and Arch continued stellar play on both ends of the court.  Arch created space with his dribble for an open 3, and Hart was able to force a turnover on the defensive end before getting another And1 layup to go.  He would hit the free throw to put the Cats up 53-34 with 13:58 to play.

Hart wasn't done there, hitting a 3 from the top of the key to put Villanova up by 20, having scored almost half the team's points himself (27 of 56).  Akron answered with a 3 of their own, but now they were playing against the clock as well as a feisty Villanova defense.

That defense was creating offensive opportunities as Donte DiVincenzo came up with a steal and finished on a fast break the other way.  Jalen Brunson continued to show his ability to finish in the lane, and Jenkins hit an open 3 from the top of the key to put the Cats back up by 21 with just under 10 minutes to play.

Off a long rebound, Arcidiacono was able to hit a streaking Bridges for a dunk that brought the crowd to their feet.  Akron continued to fight back with some impressive interior passing and play through their big men, but the Wildcats always seemed to have an answer.  With 7:37 left in the game, the cats still held a 21 point lead, up 67-46.

Kris Jenkins hit a wide open 3 and Darryl Reynolds poked away a pass to force a shot clock violation turnover as Nova continued to keep the Zips at bay.  While the big bodies of Akron were keeping Ochefu from scoring, they couldn't keep him from continuing to be a disruptive force on defense.  He was finally able to shake off his slump with a dunk just under the 5 minute mark.  Jenkins continued to have a hot hand in the second half, hitting his 3rd 3 to put the cats up 75-52 with 3:42 left to play.

With just under 3 minutes to play, Ochefu picked up his 4th foul and went to the bench.  Donte DiVincenzo made a diving play for the ball as it went out of bounds, sending his body crashing into the scorers player.  He continued to show an elite level of athleticism as he rebounded and defended with a tenacity that wasn't lost on the Villanova faithful.  Phil Booth was able to grab the final rebound of the game and wait out the clock as Villanova won 75-56

Notes and Quotes

  • Villanova's starting line-up in order announced: Jenkins, Brunson, Hart, Ochefu, Arcidiacono
  • In-bounding will probably be a focus of practice this week as the Cats had trouble getting the ball in on multiple possessions
  • JayVaughn Pinkston was in the house again Sunday to route on his former teammates.
  • Jay Wright on the slow start, "We didn't start slow today.  They're really good, they know how they want to play, they got older upper classmen.  They came in, they executed, they were tough and physical.  We got some good shots and they were just physical at the rim.  Hard contested shots."
  • Jay Wright on Jackson's foul trouble, "Jackson getting in foul trouble was big because in the game against Arkansas he just dominated the game.  And you saw in the beginning of the game we couldn't press them as much with him in there.  When they got the ball in the half-court he controlled the tempo.  But he got two fouls early, and then him getting his third quick was big in the second half.  And I think Arch made a great play getting him his fourth, I thought that was key."
  • Jay Wright on Akron, "They're a really good team, I think that's going to be an NCAA Tournament team. I'm glad we beat them.  I would not want to play them in Akron."
  • Jay Wright on the chances that he would play them in Akron, "Slim.  After I got a good look at them, very slim.  Unless somehow we were forced to go there.  Because if they shoot it like that here, jeez."
  • Jay Wright on Hart's match-up, "There are certain teams that have size and length like that, that don't have to get extended defensively, that Josh is going to be really important for us.  Because they force you to take them one on one, and the only way you can do that is if they're afraid of your three."
  • Jay Wright on playing a team like Akron, "We haven't played against a team like that.  You know, it's funny, Eric Paschall who played in the A-10 said to me at half-time 'They're just like Davidson'.  And they are.  Creighton's kinda like that.  I think we were just a step behind, just not expecting they could get the shots off that quick, that they would take the shots they take."
  • Jay Wright on disrupting Akron's rhythm, "I just think we settled in and got a feel for them, and then we locked it down defensively pretty well."
  • Jay Wright on Josh Hart's size and quickness, "We were going inside to Daniel, I mean they were big and long.  Josh was the guy that could draw them out and had the size and the length to get to the rim."
  • Jay Wright on Ryan Arcidiacono's shooting, "Every year for three years he has not shot a high percentage in the beginning of the year.  It's almost like he waits until it really counts.  But he's shooting a high percentage now, his assist to turnover is off the charts, he's really playing well"
  • Josh Hart on attacking the basket, "It was just something that I saw.  They whacked out on us pretty good on shots.  Coach always preaches 'Catch and Shoot'.  They just whacked out on us as shooters, so we were able to get down hill, get to the rim, get in the lane, pivot, and get other people shots."
  • Ryan Arcidiacono on preparing for Akron, "We knew they had a great point guard, had size, and had great shooters.  I don't think we expected, like Coach said, they would get their shots off as quickly as they did and how efficient they were offensively.  I think over time we always try to say 'Let's grind through it' and we just try to wear them out with our defense."
  • Ryan Arcidiacono on keeping composure as a leader, "That's one thing that Daniel and I always try to tell the younger guys, even Josh.  We've been here for so many years and Daniel and I were really the only ones to actually lose at Villanova and lose some games.  We've been through it all, the good and the bad, so we always just try to keep everyone even keel and then go from there. Just stick to what Coach preaches and what we do every single day in practice."
  • Ryan Arcidiacono on team scoring, "It's definitely important to put up some numbers, but if that was anyone else we would have been happy with that.  It just so happened to be Josh tonight.  I think that's one thing that's very tough about our team.  You can't really defend one person to try to hold them under a certain amount."
  • Jay Wright on rebounding, "Early they were pounding us.  We were boxing out, but they were just reaching over us.  Not fouling, they were just long and reaching over us.  We talked about it at half-time, we gotta box out and we gotta go get the ball.  I thought in the second half we really attacked the ball... The second half going after the ball and pursuing the ball, not just boxing out, was big."