**Quotes Updated Below**
The Villanova Wildcats opened their season and their new stadium with a victory Tuesday night, defeating the Morgan State Bears 100-77. Eric Paschall led the team with 26 points and 7 rebounds, a nice opening salvo for his run at Big East player of the year.
Five Wildcats in total scored in double digits to open the season, but it was the trio of seniors that came through for the Cats when they needed it the most. Phil Booth had 17 points and 4 assists. Grad transfer Joe Cremo added 10 points, including 3 buckets from behind the arc. Jermaine Samuels, in his first career start, had 12 points and 6 rebounds.
By far the most impressive of the freshmen class was Saddiq Bey, who recorded 16 points and 4 rebounds. Collin Gillespie, who had to leave the game temporarily after taking a foot to the head, did everything else for the ‘Cats with 6 assists and 5 rebounds to go along with 6 points on the night.
While the offense had no problem putting up points, the defense showed it will be a work in progress this season for the Cats. There were a number of blown assignments and breakdowns, and that wasn’t helped by 14 team turnovers, 10 coming in the first half.
Villanova will play its first game at the Wells Fargo this Saturday against Quinnipiac and former Villanova assistant coach Baker Dunleavy.
Notes and Quotes
It’s been a while since the Pavilion has been rocking like it was during Tuesday’s opening night victory, and I’m not referring to the fact it was closed last season. The refurbished stadium brought a new energy to the crowd, partially due to the increased presence of the students closer to the court. Not only was their energy felt on the court, but the “wine and cheese” crowd (now just across the aisle from the standing only student sections) were also feeding off the student’s enthusiasm.
If there was anything disapointing about the night, it was the Wildcat’s entrance. For years the team had come in through the student section, high-fiving fans all the way down the stands. It’s the biggest loss of the new stadium, but the positives outweigh the negatives. The food, the seating, the atmosphere, and just about everything else are much improved from the old confines. This is now a stadium fitting a National Champion, even if it could use a few more stands.
Grad transfer Joe Cremo was active for the game after suffering an undisclosed injury to his face during the week. He wore a protective mask in both warmups and the game. All other Wildcats were active heading into the game.
Eric Paschall was the star of the first half for the Wildcats, scoring 19 points and 4 boards to lead the team. Phil Booth added 11 points and 3 assists, while Saddiq led the newcomers with 7 points. Their scoring was desperately needed as Nova coughed the ball up 10 times in the first half and allowed Morgan State to score 43 points.
Jay Wright on The Finn: “I think it’s even better. I loved the old Pavilion, but man it was loud. It was jumping the whole time, I thought the crowd was great. There’s a different vibe in here, it’d definitely louder.”
Jay Wright on substitutions and rotations: “We were just trying to keep fresh bodies out there, try to wear them down. Which really didn’t, I don’t think worked.”...”We just wanted to keep fresh bodies. Right now, if certain guys are going well, we’re going to go with them. Obviously Phil, Collin, and Eric, they’re experienced so we’re going to go with them. But the rest of the guys, we’re gonna just see who’s going well.”
Jay Wright on keeping a rhythm in the game: “Eric and Phil and Collin, they’re going to be the guys that stay in a rhythm. Everyone else has to learn. When a guy’s in there going well, when we got a good group going, I think they’ll get into a rhythm.”
Jay Wright on how to cut down turnovers: “I think just playing games. It’s the experience of guys playing together, playing in game situations. That’s usually what young teams do, turn the ball over. In the first half they had 14 points off turnovers. Our defense wasn’t that bad in the first half, but 14 points. Our offense was killing us on the defensive end.”
Jay Wright on Saddiq Bey’s extended playing time: “Mostly because he defends and rebounds probably the best of the freshmen right now. The other guys are catching up. Most of the guys we recruit, we know they can score. We need them to be able to fit in with what we’re doing defensively, and he seemed to pick it up the quickest.”
Saddiq Bey on the biggest change from high school to college: “Coming in, I just love how together we were and the culture. I really haven’t been a part of a culture like this before. I just feel like the brotherhood and staying together. That’s the biggest thing for me, to always try to invest in, every day, being a part of that culture.”
Jay Wright on Saddiq Bey’s role: “Like all our guys, we love his versatility. Very similar to Eric, he can shoot threes, he can put it on the floor, he can post up. And the same thing on the defensive end. He can guard guys in the post, on the perimeter, he’s a good rebounder. We love those kind of guys. We want him to be a complete player offensively, we want him to do everything.”
Jay Wright on plan for the rotation: “I don’t have a plan right now. We just gotta play, and I gotta see if guys distinguish themselves. I gotta see in certain games, like tonight. They played twelve guys significant minutes. We knew they were gonna press, so our depth was going to be important tonight. There might be another game where you’re playing in a halfcourt grind. You can’t be running guys in and out in that kind of game because you do have to get into a rhythm.”
Jay Wright on the sophomores: “They’re kind of the “X-factors”. The freshmen are freshmen, but if those guys can really step up and kind of play like juniors as quickly as possible, that gives us a chance to be really good.” ... “Where they’re mistake free based on execution. We’re always going to make mistakes, maybe on decisions offensively. But being in the right place, knowing where they’re supposed to be, being solid. And if you make a mistake, make it out of being in the right place but making the wrong decision. That’s what upperclassmen do, no one plays perfect.”
Villanova got off to a quick start, hitting their first threes of the game. While the defense was a little questionable at first, back-to-back slam dunks from Eric Paschall quickly gave the Cats a comfortable lead.
Morgan State capitalized on a turnover from freshman Jahvon Quinnerly, but he was helped out by fellow freshman Saddiq Bey who banked in back to back threes to push Nova’s lead up to 9. The rookies were on the floor early and often for the Cats, but Bey was easily the most impressive early on.
Villanova continued to rain 3’s on the Bears as Joe Cremo became the 5th Wildcat to score from beyond the arc. By the 12 minute mark, the Wildcats had built an 11 point lead.
But while Villanova was making shots, they were also playing sloppy basketball. They had 7 turnovers before the 10 minute mark, and defensive miscommunications were leading to easy baskets for Morgan State. The ‘Cats were maintaining a double digit lead, but they weren’t improving on it.
Nova continued to struggle with turnovers and defense, but were always able to bail themselves out with open threes. Eric Paschall continued to show why he was considered one of the favorites for Big East Player of the Year, starting the game a perfect 5 of 5 from the floor and 5 of 5 from the charity stripe.
But even with Paschall’s hot had, the Wildcats struggled to hold off the Bears before the half. Morgan State went on their second 7-0 run of the half to pull within seven points at the 2 minute mark. At this point Wright put some more experience on the floor and the defensive intensity immediately picked up. Despite still committing a few turnovers themselves, the Wildcats held Morgan state to a single basket in the final 2 minutes. Villanova pulled back ahead by double digits and went to the locker room up 54-43 at the half.
Villanova continued to push their lead after the half, finding success in the paint as they pushed their lead up to 15. But then the offense cooled and went more than 2 minutes without scoring.
While diving for a ball, Collin Gillespie took a foot to the head, and remained lying on the floor. He was eventually able to walk off the floor on his own, and was immediately brought to the locker room by the training staff.
Back on the court, the Wildcats continued to struggle on defense, letting the Bears again cut the lead to 9. But apparently cleared to return, Gillespie returned to the court for the Wildcats. He immediately impacted the game, driving to the lane and finding an open Joe Cremo for 3.
But on the next fast break, the Wildcats again lost control of the ball. Jay Wright was clearly furious with the Cats ball handling, shouting at his players as they came into the huddle. The Wildcat lead was just 10 points with 11:49 remaining in the game, much closer than anyone in attendance had anticipated.
Eric Paschall again was the guy to get a bucket for Villanova out of the timeout, and he’d continue to attack the basket every time he touched the ball. Even when he wasn’t finishing in the paint, he was finding ways to get to the free throw line and converting at an impressive clip.
Paschall’s run had brought the Wildcats back to life offensively, Phil Booth and Saddiq Bey made baskets to push the lead up to 20. On defense, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree had a massive block in the paint as the Cats started to come up with stops.
From there Nova had the game pretty well in hand. Nova Nation even got a glimpse of the future on a give and go fast-break between Quinerly and Bey.