No one-seed has ever lost an opening round game to a 16-seed in the history of the NCAA Tournament.
“You do, you do think about it,” said Villanova head coach Jay Wright, in regards to not wanting to be the first one-seed to fall to a 16-seed.
The Radford Highlanders seemed to have the confidence to pull off the unlikely feat, starting the game off with a three-pointer from opening tip—one that had them jumping.
However, that confidence wouldn’t last long.
The Villanova Wildcats immediately answered right back and raised the ante with a barrage of three-pointers, nailing four consecutive shots from long range en route to a dominating 31-8 start. From there, Villanova hardly looked back, using the hot start to coast to an 87-61 lopsided victory to start off its NCAA Tournament journey.
“Honestly, I wasn’t paying attention to how many threes we were hitting,” said Jalen Brunson, about that opening run to start the game. “To me it didn’t seem like a lot. We were just really trying to focus on defending and rebounding. Offense, it comes natural to us. We love sharing the ball with each other. We all are really confident with each other, making shots, sharing the ball and all that.”
The Wildcats seemed loose, yet focused on the floor. Defensively, they were dialed in, once again forcing a drought on an opponent, while they go build an insurmountable lead.
On the other end of the court, the shots were falling, especially from deep. Villanova moved the ball very well, assisting on almost two-thirds of its baskets. Aside from that, the three-point shot was falling, as the ‘Cats nailed an impressive 14-of-27 (51.9 percent) from long range.
While Radford started to find its footing at the very end, it was already far too late.
Mikal Bridges would drain a three-pointer 23 seconds to go in the first half. His basket would push his team’s lead into the twenties, giving the ‘Cats a 44-23 lead going into halftime.
With such a commanding lead, the Wildcats were able to distribute the amount of minutes more freely. They got to demonstrate that great balance, as players coming off the bench seemed to have gotten more playing time than usual.
Regardless, they would maintain that big lead, as it never dipped below 20 for the rest of the game.
Radford continued its struggles when it came to scoring the ball, as no Highlander was really able to find a rhythm on the floor. Overall, the Highlanders were held to shooting just 33.3 percent on the floor and a matching lackluster performance from deep.
“Once we feel like we’re playing really tough defensively—you can tell by everybody’s reaction on the bench—when you’re out there all fired up,” Bridges said. “Because we love playing defense, you know, that’s what we focus on the most. And it’s just a great feeling, we are defending and playing hard together.”
‘Nova enjoyed its balanced effort, with five different starters and another player off to the bench all scoring in double figures. Jalen Brunson (16 points) led the way with an efficient 7-for-11 shooting performance. Mikal Bridges (13), Eric Paschall (11) Omari Spellman (10), Phil Booth (10), and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (10) all eclipsed double digits.
Donald Hicks paced the Highlanders with 13 points, before fouling out. Freshman Carlik Jones had 11 points.
With the second round on the horizon, there is undeniably at least a bit of anxiety that seems to surround that phrase and the program in recent history.
A handful of players have experienced what it’s like to be at the pinnacle of college basketball, and a lot of those same players also felt the bitterness that came with an early exit. Those experiences have shaped the team and have only fed their hunger to prepare for their next opponent.
“I heard Jalen say it—I know the bitter and sweet of this tournament,” Wright said. “I know winning a National Championship and I know getting knocked out in the second round. I know anything can happen. That’s what this team’s mindset is. I stick with the mindset of the group that we have.”