At Hagan Arena, fans were decked out in red and blue, and lines were clearly drawn.
Villanova’s no stranger to slow starts, and the ‘Cats didn’t play their greatest coming out of the gate against Big 5 rival St. Joseph’s.
Villanova trailed by three at halftime, but eventually picked things up in the second half. It was yet another battle between St. Joe’s and Villanova, with the ‘Cats winning for the 11th year in a row. They took on another victory, the final score being 71-64.
“I was really proud of the way our team, take out the first 10 minutes, I love the way we competed defensively,” Villanova coach Kyle Neptune said. “We took a lot of shots, a lot of punches from them. They came out hot, they had a great game plan, especially offensively. They’re a load — the way they shoot threes, the way they move the ball. Billy Lange is a great coach, especially offensively. Luckily, we made a lot of shots early, but they really had it going. We locked in, especially the last 30 minutes of that game.”
The Hawks brought their energy and their spirits, starting off strong. Erik Reynolds II made a three-point shot in the first six seconds, the first of many to come.
The ‘Cats quickly matched their foes, led by Brandon Slater. He had a hot streak from beyond the arc, draining five 3-pointers and finishing with 19 points overall.
“Every game is different,” Slater says. “The shots were coming from just some guys rotating in and my team finding me in the right places.”
Villanova turned to the three-ball early and often. The Hawks held their ground, though, as Reynolds, a career-high night for him, and Lynn Greer carried, scoring 27 and 14 points respectively. Just when Villanova seemed to take the lead at the end of the first half, Reynolds managed to make a three-pointer with a second to spare, giving St. Joe’s a 35-32 halftime lead.
However, Villanova brought their energy to the second half, with Erik Dixon managing to make a three within the first minute. Brandon Slater continued his trend from the first half and quickly followed him up with another three. Both shots were assisted by Caleb Daniels, who didn’t shoot well, but was consistent in his assists, layups, and defense.
The Wildcats used a 6-0 run in the second half to tie things up, as Chris Arcidiacono drained a three-pointer with 15:50 to go. The run extended to an 18-6 spurt topped off by another Slater three, which Villanova used to take the lead for good.
When the Hawks crept up on the ‘Cats, Arcidiacono was the key to regrouping the team and playing the role of a steadying influence. Arcidiacono made a late three, plus a series of free throws that helped ice the game.
“He knows exactly what we expect from him, and he always comes out and tries to execute,” Neptune said of Arcidiacono.
Arcidiacono finished with 14 points on 3-of-4 shooting, with three rebounds, four assists and no turnovers.
“I think that the guys have trusted me, and Coach Neptune has trusted me to just lead our team,” Arcidiacono said.
Aside from Slater and Arcidiacono, Eric Dixon added a 16-point, 12 rebound double-double. Caleb Daniels and Cam Whitmore each had seven points and both of them shot just 3-of-10 on the floor.
Both teams played well and battled it out for threes, as the three-point line was a focal point for both Villanova and St. Joe’s. Villanova shot 14-of-38 (36.8%) from the three-point line, while St. Joe’s finished just 9-of-29 (31.0%) as a team from deep. After the first half, though, the ‘Cats made it their mission to prevent the Hawks from taking more of their signature shots.
“Man, this was winnable,” Lange said. “We got to get a little bit better, and there’s a lot we can learn from this.”
Villanova improves to 6-5 overall and it has now won four straight. The ‘Cats return to action at home, when they host St. John’s at Finneran Pavilion. Tip-off is scheduled for Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. ET.