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Whitmore debuts, as Villanova ends losing streak with win over Oklahoma, 70-66

Cam Whitmore added a much needed spark to the Wildcats’ rotation, and Caleb Daniels was efficient on the floor.

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma at Villanova Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

It was a big day for Villanova, who picked up a much-needed win on Saturday afternoon to break a recent losing streak at the Wells Fargo Center and saw the debut of highly-touted freshman Cam Whitmore.

This is Villanova’s 20th straight non-conference win at the Wells Fargo Center dating back to 2004. It was a back-and-forth battle all game until the Wildcats were able to pull away late winning the game, 70-66.

While Whitmore stole the show early on with his entrance, the game came down to a pair of Eric Dixon free throws followed by a Chris Arcidiacono three, which dug the ‘Cats out of a late hole. Arcidiacono’s defense led to two costly Oklahoma turnovers and the Wildcats capitalized with a dagger Caleb Daniels three and some free throws to ice the game.

“He’s unbelievable,” Villanova coach Kyle Neptune said of Arcidiacono, “He’s always, and not just in games, in practice too — his poise, his dedication, he’s always in the gym shooting extra. He’s a special guy for our program. To this team and our program in general, what he stands for. He plays hard all the time, he never asks for any praise or anything for himself. He doesn’t care about accolades or scoring, all he wants do is help this team so he’s a great example for our young guys and a great leader for our team.”

Oklahoma had a chance to tie the game with 20 seconds left, down three but Grant Sherfield’s three rimmed out.

Villanova’s team defense did not see much improvement from the PK85 Tournament in the first few minutes of the game, with the Groves brothers drilling a few wide-open shots to open up a 15-7 Oklahoma lead. Then, projected top 10 pick in this year’s NBA Draft Cam Whitmore made his season debut at the under-16 timeout and the Wells Fargo Center began to buzz, sparking a Villanova run.

Whitmore showed why he has the potential to be a top 10 NBA draft pick. Whitmore showcased himself with a steal that led to a fastbreak hockey assist. Later on, Whitmore drilled a step-back three for his first Villanova basket and bullied his way to a few strong finishes around the rim.

“I’m so proud of this kid,” Neptune said of Whitmore, “It starts in practice and just everything he does off the court. He had a great showing tonight, he’s a very poised young man as a freshman.”

Neptune was comfortable subbing Whitmore in at the center position for Eric Dixon. At the college level, Whitmore’s versatility is crucial.

“That’s always been our calling card, ” Neptune said of the decision to sub Whitmore in for Dixon. “We don’t care who is on the floor. We like to think of our guys as basketball players.”

When Neptune said that there may be a change to the starting lineup for Saturday’s game, he was not bluffing. Freshman Mark Armstrong got the nod to join the starting lineup today ahead of sophomore Jordan Longino. Armstrong seemed to settle in well, scoring the first two points of the game for the Wildcats.

Caleb Daniels paced the Wildcats with 22 points on 8-of-10 shooting, also grabbing three rebounds and dishing out three assists.

“The harder you lean, the more [the offensive player] can spin, but if you don’t lean hard, he can just back you down,” Oklahoma head coach Porter Moser said of Caleb Daniels, who tormented the Sooners all day offensively. “We were mixing up doubling and sometimes we ran at him, because they’re just so patient and what they’ve always done here is ball movement and spacing, but he’s really patient and he’s really older and strong and the more you try to be leveraged, the more he can spin off you and the more you’re watching the spin, the more he [back you down] and then he can pass.”

Eric Dixon added 12 points and some clutch baskets late in the game. Whitmore energized the crowd every time he stepped on the court and did most of his scoring in the first half, finishing with seven points in 20 minutes. Armstrong added 10 points and some much-needed flow to the offense when he was in the game.

Oklahoma had a clear gameplan trying to switch their bigs onto the Villanova guards for a mismatch all game. Grant Sherfield led the Sooners in scoring with 21 points, four rebounds and four assists. The Groves brothers got off to a hot start scoring the teams first nine points. Jacob and Tanner Groves both finished with 14 points while Tanner added seven rebounds.

Villanova now sits at 3-5. The Wildcats will look to build off this win on Wednesday, Dec. 7 in their third Big-Five game of the year against the Penn Quakers at the Finneran Pavilion.