After a tough OT loss on Friday, No. 5 Villanova responded in a 100-81 win over the visiting Howard Bison.
It was a shootout between both teams, until Villanova pulled away in the second half and held on for the win.
In the win, the Wildcats were led by senior Brandon Slater, who had a career-high 23 points on 75% shooting from the field, including a perfect 4-for-4 clip from long range.
Slater did it on both ends of the floor in his impressive performance, as he made several spectacular plays on defense and was a major factor in Howard’s 14 turnovers.
As he continues to turn heads and surprise fans with his hot start to the season, the program is hardly shocked by his growth and play so far.
“Everyone in the program has watched him work hard, be patient, be loyal, be intelligent, and everybody has been rooting for him since he was a freshman,” said Wright. “Everybody knows how hard he’s worked at this point. Nothing’s been given to him. He’s earned everything and never complained.”
Senior Collin Gillespie also had a great game, putting up 21 points and going 5-of-12 from beyond the arc. He joined Wright in his praise of Slater’s improvements.
“We saw it all summer,” Gillespie said. “Slater was one of the guys who was there everyday working his tail off.”
Along with Slater, Justin Moore has continued to build upon his game as well, and he chipped in with 16 points, three rebounds, and a steal. Jermaine Samuels rounded out a great night for the upperclassmen with four assists and 11 points on 3-of-3 shooting.
For the underclassmen, redshirt sophomore Eric Dixon was perhaps the most influential, as he posted nine points, three assists, and seven rebounds. Three of those rebounds came on offense, and from their eight total offensive rebounds, the Wildcats had 16 second chance points compared to Howard’s five.
“Eric Dixon did a good job on the offensive glass,” said Wright. “You play a smaller, quicker team like Howard and you have to take advantage of that, and thank God we did.”
Overall, there were not many offensive rebounds to grab, because Howard shot the ball just as well as Villanova. Both teams shot an accurate 57% from the field, and the Bison especially looked in rhythm at the beginning of the game.
In the first half, Howard shot a spectacular 74% from the field, making 8-of-12 3-pointers in the process. While the Bison only led in the early seconds of the game, their deadly shooting kept it within reach, as they just trailed by 8 at the end of the first half.
However, the Bison’s unforced errors, turnovers, and fouling issues resulted in the game escaping from them. With 11:24 left in the game, Nova’ embarked on a 19-3 run that all but sealed the win.
Wright had a lot of respect for the Bison’s performance, and he was impressed with their lights out shooting in spite of Villanova’s solid defense.
“I don’t think we were that bad defensively. We were there,” said Wright. “[Howard] just drilled a lot of threes and made some tough twos. I just have to give them credit.”
For Howard, senior guard Kyle Foster had 19 points on 58% shooting in his team’s respectable effort. Freshman guard Elijah Hawkins added a double-double with 16 points and 11 assists. Tai Bibbs also had 16 points.
With the defeat, Howard drops to 3-1 in its 11th straight loss against Big East competition.
Villanova improves to 2-1 before it returns to the Mohegan Sun Arena, site of last year’s Bubbleville, for the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament.
This Saturday, the Wildcats will take on No. 17 Tennessee in the four-game tournament, and since the competition is stacked with ranked teams, Nova’ will face another big test in the young season.