After a slow start, the Villanova Wildcats found their shooting touch to secure a 90-48 victory over the American Eagles. The Cats were able to bust this one wide open with a 22-2 run in the second half, and never looked back. On the slow start, Jay Wright said, “We weren’t great, but they were. They were good early. I think we have the ability to stick with it, not panic, and I think we just got used to their style. And we played well after that.” The team remains undefeated at 12-0, and extended their school record 18-0 streak since last season.
Josh Hart led the team with 20 points and 7 rebounds, as five Wildcats scored in double digits. Eric Paschall and Mikal Bridges would each add 15 points, while Brunson had another 14. Donte DiVincenzo had 12 points and 5 boards, along with a late block that got the student section on their feet.
While the Cats were exceptional at attacking the paint all night, it was their defense that kept them in it early and sealed the deal late. Villanova forced 14 turnovers and was +20 on the boards as they were able to dominate on both ends of the floor.
In the first half, Villanova got off to a rocky start, missing 7 of their first 11 shots. It was also rough going from behind the arc, as the team was just 4-13 in the half. The poor shooting was compounded by 8 turnovers. Josh Hart was one of the few bright spots, scoring 12 points and grabbing 5 rebounds.
In the second half, Villanova was able to get the Eagles into foul trouble early, and American’s Center fouled out by the 15 minute mark to put Nova in the bonus. From there, it was an all out attack on the paint that the visitors just couldn’t stop.
Phil Booth continues to recover from tendinitis in his knee, and has now missed nine games. “We can’t progress to the next step until he is pain free. The last time we had him go out and do a workout he had pain in his knee, so we’re in that rest period. If we get pain free, then we can start on the process of getting him back. I would be very pleased to have that challenge of fitting Phil Booth back into this. I think he would do it really easily.”
The Wildcats now prepare to start Big East conference play with DePaul next week. “I judge where our program is by what we do in the Big East,” said Wright after the game. “If we’re at the top of the Big East, then I think our program is in good shape. If we’re competing for regular season championships and Big East Tournament championships, I’m good.”
The “student section” was looking a little older now that the students are on break, but the stands were still full Wednesday night as the Wildcats took on Eagles of American University at the Pavilion. Villanova would again be without shooting guard Phil Booth, missing his ninth straight game. Mikal Bridges would again take his role in the starting lineup, along with Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Darryl Reynolds, and Jalen Brunson.
Villanova won the opening tip and went inside early against the smaller American squad. Darryl Reynolds was able to use some nice footwork under the basket to get the first bucket of the game. American answered with a two of their own. On the next possession, Reynolds was able to put back an offensive rebound. But again, American answered.
After trading misses and a Brunson turnover, Jones was able to go 1-2 for the Eagles to give them their first lead of the game. It was, however, short lived as Bridges drove the baseline for a dunk on the other end to give Nova the lead back. Three minutes in, the Cats had a one point lead (6-5), but they were clearly dominating the pace of play and forcing American to make difficult shots.
Another strong defensive possession for the Cats forced a back court violation with pressure from Josh Hart and Mikal Bridges, but they came up short on the other end. American was able to work the ball inside for an easy two, and took the lead back. After trading empty possessions, the teams hit the media timeout with American leading 7-6 and 14:59 left in the first half.
Nova was able to create a turnover out of the timeout, but then gave it right back. They eventually got the lead back in transition as Bridges found Paschall under the basket in transition for the slam. Nova’s defense was keeping them in this one, but the offense was about as flat as it could get. The team needed a spark.
They got it when Brunson drove for a layup, DiVincenzo turned a steal into a dunk, and Hart hit a 3 in three straight possessions to give Villanova a six point lead, their biggest of the game. American was able to get a quick 2 before the next media timeout at 11:50, but Nova still held a 15-11 lead.
Out of the timeout, American cut the lead back to two, and more sloppy play lead to the Cats 5th turnover before the 10 minute mark. Another quick layup inside, and the game was again tied. Villanova’s shooting woes continued until Josh Hart finally broke a two and a half minute scoring drought with a three to give Nova the lead back. Jenkins then found Hart off a long rebound for a transition basket to push the lead to 20-15.
Despite the turnover troubles and some foul trouble, the Cats were still controlling the pace of play and more importantly, winning the 50-50 balls. After Brunson found Reynolds under the hoop for a wide open dunk, DiVincenzo wrestled a loose ball away from the Eagles and got it up court. Jenkins would eventually draw a foul with the Cats leading 22-17 and 7:54 left in the first half.
Paschall would get to the line for two and Divincenzo hit a 15 footer on the baseline, giving Nova its biggest lead of the half at 9, but American still wasn’t going away, finding ways to score on offense and create turnovers on defense. They worked the Villanova lead down to six with 4:43 to play in the first, but Bridges was able to hit a corner three to push the lead back up to nine.
Josh Hart continued to lead the team in scoring, coming out of nowhere to put back an offensive rebound and give him 10 points in the first half. Villanova had worked their way back over 50% from the floor for the half, but were still shooting a pitiful 27% from behind the arc (3-11). They came out of the second media timeout up 31-23 with 3:28 left in the half.
After another Nova turnover, the defense was able to step up and get a stop, leading to a Kris Jenkins finger roll in the lane at the other end, giving the Cats their first double digit lead. American answered with a three at the shot clock to keep the game in single digits. The team would trade buckets before Bridges would hit a three off a tipped ball to bring the Wildcat lead up to 11.
Villanova ramped up the pressure on defense in the final minutes, using their press to force a few American turnovers and hold on to their double digit lead. Paschall would hit 1 of 2 from the line to push the lead to two, but American continued to hang around, hitting a three pointer with 6.2 seconds left. This time it was Nova who came up with the answer, as Josh Hart hit a mid-range shot from outside the paint to give the Cats a 40-29 lead at halftime.
Villanova came out of the half looking to build on their lead, but American big man Mark Gasperini continued to show off an above average hook shot in the lane to bring the Cats back within single digits. On the other end though, Hart would drive the lane to give Gasperini his 4th foul and make both free throws to again extend the lead.
The game seemed to be getting away from the Eagles as they committed five team fouls in the first two minutes of the second half. The early foul trouble forced them to relax their defense, leaving Bridges open for a three to put the Cats up 14. Jalen Brunson would follow that with a transition basket, and the Wildcats were in full control. American would get a basket back, but Paschall was able to grab an offensive rebound and make the And 1 on the other end to push the lead to 50-33 with just over 16 minutes left to play, and Villanova now in the Bonus.
In what can only be described as a series of hustle plays, DiVincenzo and Paschall used a combined effort to secure mutliple offensive rebounds and loose balls on a single possession before DiVincenzo was finally fouled and sent to the line. It was a perfect example of how Villanova was winning this game: out-hustling their opponent.
On the next possession, DiVincenzo got to the paint again, this time drawing a fifth foul on American’s starting center Gasperini. With the Eagles big man gone and already in foul trouble, the Cats continued to attack the paint and get to the line. Brunson was able to sink two free throws to put Villanova up 21 with just over 13 minutes to play and American already in the double bonus.
The offense at this point was clear: get to the paint. Possession after possession Villanova guards would drive or dish into the paint for either easy baskets or easy trips to the foul line. American was just two undersized and in too much foul trouble to find a way back into the game. On defense, the Cats focused on clogging up the lane, forcing American to try to beat them from the outside. It was an effective strategy, and even lead to back-to-back shot clock violations as the frustrated Eagles struggled to find a way inside. Mid way through the second half, Villanova led 62-37.
Kris Jenkins would push the lead up to 28 with a three on the offensive end, forcing American to call a timeout. Out of the timeout, Nova was able to get another stop and Jenkins found Paschall down low for an easy slam. Back to back layups by Brunson and Hart broke the game open as Villanova was now on a 14-0 run. The Cats led 71-37 with 7:54 left in the game.
The route was on and Delaney and Painter were set to come in as the Cats led by 31 with just under six minutes to play. Villanova continued to attack the paint and defend the interior, ensuring that their starters wouldn’t need to re-enter the game and pushing the lead up to 35 with four minutes to play.
The bench was cleared and the Cats closed out a 42 point victory, winning easily 90-48.