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Second half turnaround saves Villanova from Delaware State, 60-50

It was scary in the first half, before the ‘Cats got themselves going in the second half.

NCAA Basketball: Delaware State at Villanova Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

After a tough loss to Temple, Villanova got off to a slow start against the Delaware State Hornets. At first, it appeared to be more of the same, as Villanova fell behind and was quiet from the three-point line, missing all 16 of their three-point attempts in the first half.

“This is basketball, you can miss shots,” Villanova coach Kyle Neptune said about his team’s first half. “I think we missed something like 16 overall but maybe one or two shots were great shots that we just missed. If we can take those same shots every game, we will take those shots, sometimes they just don’t go in.”

The Wildcats ultimately avoided another upset, turning things around in the second half, before going on to win, 60-50.

“This is a grind, this is what college basketball is,” Neptune said. “You come out, teams have gameplans and they execute it. In the first half, they made it tough for us, played extremely hard and made shots. To our guys’ credit, we took their runs and we just grinded. Eventually, by the end, we were playing where we needed to be playing, but we’re a young team and a work in progress, but I was proud of the way we were resilient.”

The Hornets opened up with a 12-2 run five minutes into the first half.

Despite three-point shooting woes, Villanova was able to stay in the game due to strong defense and getting to the foul line. Eric Dixon and Brandon Slater were both standouts and led the ‘Cats in scoring.

In the final 11 minutes of the first half, the Wildcats allowed only five points by the Hornets and trimmed it down to a 27-24 deficit at halftime. Notably, Villanova was 12-for-13 from the foul line to start, which also helped keep them going during the first half of the game.

“Just had to stay together and stay confident,” Dixon said. “We play with these guys every single day and make a hundred shots. I don’t think we ever had any wavering confidence.”

Within the first three minutes of the second half, Brandon Slater broke the Wildcats’ three-point shooting drought with a shot that shook the entire Pavilion.

Then, shortly after, Caleb Daniels follows in Slater’s footsteps by bringing in yet another three-point shot.

And, guess what?

Mark Armstrong follows his teammates up with back-to-back threes a few minutes later for Villanova’s first lead of the game.

In these first 10 minutes of the second half, Villanova managed to have a complete change of heart, better fortune and connect from the three-point line, the shot that the team is known for. Energy returned to the entire stadium, which was a complete 180-degree turn from the grueling first half.

The ‘Cats were not deterred by the Hornets’ challenge. Although it may be frustrating, patience leads to victory.

“We love what we do,” Dixon said. “We love to grind things out like that.”

In the last eight minutes, Villanova stayed consistent with their plays and fought for each and every point they won.

Armstrong’s contributions gave ‘Nova the lead for good and turned around the previously scary trajectory. His two back-to-back baskets gave Villanova the critical lead they needed to defeat Delaware State in the end.

“[Armstrong] is one of the most talented players that we’ve had here,” Neptune said. “His speed, athleticism … the sky’s the limit for him.”

He wasn’t the only freshman providing a big boost. Armstrong and teammate Brendan Hausen each sparked the ‘Cats off the bench by chipping in seven points apiece in the second half.

“I was proud of the way he played,” Neptune said of Hausen. “He didn’t get in last game, and to his credit, a lot of guys would sulk or blame other guys or feel sorry for himself, but he was just ready to play, so hats off to him.”

They were welcomed contributors to help get the ‘Cats back on track after suffering the tough loss to Temple and falling out of the AP Top 25. Dixon led the ‘Cats with 17 points, seven rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks. Slater provided 15 points with a perfect 12-for-12 shooting performance at the free throw line, and had five boards and three assists.

Delaware State made a notable effort, though, holding their ground throughout the game and never straying too far behind the ‘Cats.

Khyrie Staten had a team-high 10 points, Brandon Stone scored nine points with eight rebounds, and the others trailed closely behind them in a balanced effort. Delaware also had 40.0% overall scoring, as well as a ten-point, nine-minute lead in the first half.

Next up for Villanova is a trip to East Lansing, where it will play Michigan State on Friday, November 18 at 8:00 p.m. ET.