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Villanova Basketball opens Big 5 Play with a 90-62 victory over Penn

‘Nova wins first game played in Jake Nevin since 1986.

NCAA Basketball: Pennsylvania at Villanova Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Villanova opened Big 5 play for the first time ever in Jake Nevin Fieldhouse and defeated the University of Pennsylvania 90-62. This was Villanova’s 19th straight Big 5 victory, and also the first regular season game played at Jake Nevin since Nova defeated Marist on January 4, 1986.

NCAA Basketball: Pennsylvania at Villanova Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

“We knew we were in for a battle,” Coach Wright said after the game. “It’s beneficial to play these games early - the Big 5 has some of the best coaches in the country and we know we have to bring it every game.”

It really wasn’t obvious who was going to take control of the game for Villanova after the first half. All 9 players who logged a minute scored in the first half, and Omari Spellman lead the way with 10 points despite scoring all of them in the first 6 minutes of the game. Donte Divincenzo had 7 points and 4 rebounds in the first half, and Big East Player of the Week Jalen Brunson had a relatively quiet half with only 7 points.

A highlight from the first half was a loose ball at mid-court picked up by Spellman and slammed home that left Nevin shaking. “I double dribbled,” Spellman said about the play. “I know I went to pass it to Mikal but he wasn’t there so I kind of just kept going with the ball,” he said laughing.

The Cats were spreading out the ball on offense, assisting on 11 of their 15 made FGs. They were making their shots, shooting 55% from the field including 50% from behind the arc. Jermaine Samuels made an appearance with 8:33 left in the half and nailed a three-pointer, his first basket since the Western Kentucky game.

The second half opened up with the same five that started the game, and their defense really stepped up the pressure. The Cats played a tough press for most of the first half, forcing 4 turnovers and scoring 10 points off of turnovers.

“We legitimately had trouble communicating defensively,” Coach said commenting on the loud environment Jake Nevin brought. “It’s a difficult place to play for anyone, including the home team. We had trouble getting into our defensive sets in the first half.”

“It reminded me of Creighton, another really loud environment,” Brunson said after the game. “You can’t hear coach there and you kind of have to read coach’s lips.”

The pressure intensified in the second half, and Nova forced 10 turnovers in the second half and 6 steals. It was obvious they were feeding off each other’s energy and the energy from the crowd.

Five Villanova players finished with double digits, with Brunson finishing with 17 points, Mikal Bridges, Phil Booth and Spellman finishing with 14, and Divincenzo finishing with 12.

Spellman had one of his better games of the season, and drew a lot of praise from his teammates. “Omari is a great decision maker,” Brunson commented. “He’s not selfish at all and is great passing out of the post. He’s still learning but that’s the beauty of it - he’s just getting better.”

Jake Nevin was filled to the brim with students, with the attendance marked at a full-capacity 2,200. “We screwed up our pregame actually because we weren’t used to playing here,” Coach Wright shared. “We literally had Father Rob doing pregame with us in Connelly Center with the students all around us.”

Villanova now leads the all time series against the Quakers 47-17. The Wildcats improve to 7-0 on the season and continues Big 5 play at Saint Joseph’s on Saturday. Tip-off is set for 5:30 on ESPN2.