Starting the 2017-18 season a bit early for a good cause, the Villanova Wildcats shook what appeared to be the little rust they had. While they usually play next door or under the bright lights and big stage of the Wells Fargo Center, the Wildcats still generated some excitement in the cozier Jake Nevin Field House.
Even though it’s not really a venue they had been accustomed to playing to over the years, these young men sustained to do more than just their job. While a handful of Wildcats had contributed solid performances, it felt like all eyes were on Omari Spellman, who was getting his first-ever taste of in-game action at the collegiate level.
The former five-star recruit tallied nine points, 12 rebounds, and three blocks in Villanova’s 87-68 win over Drexel.
“Spellman’s excitement for the season is contagious,” said Villanova head coach Jay Wright. “I think he’s going to be a great contributor to the team’s energy for the season.”
He was quick to get to work, coming in hot by winning the opening tip-off, then going straight to draining the first three-pointer of the game. He didn’t take too many shots in his 20 minutes of action, making 3-of-4 attempts—including a pair of threes.
On the boards, he was a machine, almost grabbing one rebound per minute to start off (11 through just 13 minutes of play). Five of his rebounds came on the offensive end of the court.
The 6-foot-9 forward was a menace defensively, and his coach was pleased with his effort.
“I think the best thing that came out of tonight was, the way Omari guarded against these guys,” Wright said. “He put up a very strong defense.”
Spellman is on nothing short of a mission. He is free and evidently ready to prove himself for this 2017-18 season.
He helped the ‘Cats build a 20-7 lead to start the game, and from there, they could hardly look back at their “City Six” foe. Villanova had a 45-22 lead at half.
The excitement for his highly anticipated return to the court had one fan going, as they screamed, “Can we just hop on Spellman’s back to the ‘ship or what?!?”
He wasn’t the only happy Wildcat in the frontcourt, as Eric Paschall and Mikal Bridges enjoyed great performances, despite getting into the game late because of testing.
They were out of the starting five, as Wright opted for Spellman, Jalen Brunson, Collin Gillespie, Phil Booth, and Donte DiVincenzo.
“Yeah, that wasn’t our starting five,” Wright said. “A couple of the guys had a test tonight so, I just worked with what I had.”
Paschall had 15 points and was a perfect 6-of-6 inside the arc. He also had nine rebounds. Meanwhile, Bridges finished with 13 points, four assists, and four blocks.
Talk from Media Day included the fact that Wright was going to see what the freshman can do in tonight’s game, as he already knows what his big time returners are made of. When it comes to the this season he says, “Jalen, Phil, and Mikal are solid. In terms of the players around them, we really just have to create a team chemistry around those three.”
As for the other guys who made their first appearance, Jermaine Samuels, Collin Gillespie, and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree seemed to be taking a quieter role so far. They combined for just 11 points, but nine turnovers. They each had their moments, and their mistakes, but it’s all part of the process.
However, one headscratcher included why Dylan Painter didn’t appear for long on the court, after getting playing time towards the end of last season. Is he redshirting? Is he still in the engineering program, getting a five-year degr
Painter eventually made his way on the court in the second half and seemed stronger and quicker on the court.
Even with the game becoming a blowout, Jalen Brunson continued to ball out on the court. He got a team-high 16 points deep into the second half, with six assists to go with it.
Defensively, Villanova was on point, especially in the first half, when it held Drexel to shooting just 25 percent. Tadas Kararinas led the Dragons with 16 points off the bench.
But, let’s face it. This team is going to be “stupid good” by the time it goes deep into the season and the calendar hits 2018, especially when it comes to defense...and when the pieces of Spellman, the captains, and the rest of the guys come together.