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Villanova surges past Boston College in season opener, 76-67

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‘Nova rallies late in the second half to take down the Eagles in its first game of the season.

2K Empire Classic Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

It’s good to be back.

Over eight months have passed since Villanova’s one-point victory over Georgetown on March 7, but it seems last season was years ago. There was a lot of uncertainty and several cancellations around the country leading up to the game, but college basketball is back, and Villanova is ready to make waves.

After the Eagles left the Big East in 2005, the teams have played only once: a memorable matchup in the 2006 Sweet 16 where the ‘Cats squeaked out a win in an overtime thriller. Jay Wright is 4-4 against Boston College in his career as Villanova head coach. The Wildcats were a little shorthanded, with senior Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree out with a shin injury and sophomore Bryan Antoine out, still recovering from his shoulder surgery.

Caleb Daniels scored a corner three-pointer for the first basket of the 2020-21 Villanova basketball season (his first points in a Villanova jersey), and the ‘Cats took a quick lead in the opening minutes. Coach Wright showed off the team’s depth early, with Brandon Slater, Cole Swider, Eric Dixon all seeing minutes early in the first half. Justin Moore and Daniels accounted for most of the scoring early in the first half, but the ‘Cats found themselves struggling to get a basket midway through the first half and allowed Boston College to get back in the game.

Villanova’s lead was only three points at the U-4 media timeout, and the Eagles were finding success down in the paint. The success continued off the dribble drive and an 11-2 run gave Boston College their first lead with just over two minutes left in the half. A three-pointer from senior Collin Gillespie gave Villanova the lead back, but they went into halftime tied 34-34.

Gillespie and Moore both scored nine points in the first half, and Samuels lead the team with five rebounds. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl picked up his second foul with 13:26 remaining in the first half and sat on the bench for the rest of the half.

Jay Heath led the scoring for the Eagles in the first half with 11 points. As a team, Boston College dominated the boards, 20-11, and it outscored Villanova 20-12 in the paint as well. It was clear ‘Nova was missing Cosby-Roundtree down low and Robinson-Earl’s foul trouble proved costly as well.

Villanova’s troubles inside continued early into the second half and the Eagles were able to continue extending their scoring advantage in the paint. The Eagles extended their lead to eight points, but a three-pointer from Moore and big dunk from Robinson-Earl stabilized the lead back to 3 points at the U-16 media timeout.

The Eagles showed off their offensive versatility by draining a few three-pointers to extend their lead, but Villanova fought back to keep it close. Jermaine Samuels picked up his fourth foul with just over 11 minutes remaining, and the ‘Cats trailed by 4 points.

They temporarily regained the lead after a nice basket from Gillespie, but the Eagles quickly responded with a basket of their own. Robinson-Earl came alive in the second half, scoring a few buckets on route to a 17-4 run that gave ‘Nova the lead again, and they were ultimately able to hold on to a gritty 76-67 victory.

Robinson-Earl led ‘Nova in scoring with 18 points and also grabbed 10 rebounds for his tenth double-double of his career. Gillespie added 15 points and seven assists, while Moore and Daniels both scored 14 points. As a team they shot exactly 50% from the field (30-of-60), including 34.8% from behind the arc (8-23). With Robinson-Earl back in the game in the second half, they were able to make up the deficit in the first half, and both teams finished with 30 points in the paint.

It was certainly a shaky start for the Wildcats, but they showed they have the depth to grind out a win when needed. Cosby-Roundtree’s absence was definitely noticeable, especially late in the first half when Robinson-Earl was on the bench in foul trouble. However, Robinson-Earl dominated the second half in the paint and on the boards, and the ‘Cats were able to string together some solid defensive possessions down the stretch.

Villanova will take on the Arizona State Sun Devils on Thanksgiving Day at 9:30 p.m. ET for the 2K Empire Classic Championship.