It’s a new year, with some new faces, but some old habits remain.
Villanova still has its share of slow starts, before turning it up 10 notches in the second half and pulling away for a comfortable win.
The Wildcats welcomed newly-minted Division I Le Moyne to the Finneran Pavilion on Friday, and they enjoyed a lopsided 83-57 win over the Dolphins.
“Our guys did a good job of weathering some storms and I thought our depth, again, was a factor tonight,” Villanova coach Kyle Neptune said. “I thought we wore them out at the end.”
Justin Moore led the ‘Cats with 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting. He also grabbed two boards, had a block and a steal in the winning effort. Three other ‘Cats also finished in double figures — Brendan Hausen (18 points), T.J. Bamba (15) and Tyler Burton (10).
“We got a lot of experience on this team, a lot of older guys, but we got guys that are playing together for the first time,” Neptune said. “Every minute that we’re out there, we get a chance to play with each other and build trust as a team — it’s a positive.”
The ‘Cats had some defensive lapses early on, as they went back and forth with the Dolphins over the first 10 minutes of the game.
A 21-4 Villanova run quickly turned the tide of the game, as the ‘Cats got big plays on both ends of the court. Brendan Hausen sparked the game-changing surge with a three-pointer to tie the game at 20-20 with 9:38 left in the first half.
Hausen would top off the run with another three-ball to make it 38-24 with 4:28 remaining in the half, right after teammates T.J. Bamba and Justin Moore were able to strike from long range.
“He’s just a great shooter,” Neptune said of Hausen and his career-high scoring performance. “If he gets open, he gets free, he can make shots. None of us are surprised by that. I think where he’s continuing to improve, especially from last year is defensively and that will be important as we move forward.”
The ‘Cats would take a 46-34 lead into halftime.
Their lead stayed in double figures for the remainder of the game, and the margin pushed into the 20s during the final minutes.
Villanova played 11 players in the win, but it’s looking like the nine-man rotation is solidifying moving forward.
Newcomers impressed once again. Bamba had an all-around day that included five boards, four assists and no turnovers. Burton had a 10-point, 13-rebound double-double, which included five offensive boards and a steal. Hakim Hart only took three shots and finished with three points, but also chipped in five boards, three assists, a steal, and was tied with Mark Armstrong for a game-high plus/minus rating of +23.
“Our main focus is just going out there and playing hard, playing harder than the opponent,” Bamba said. “Get a rebound, go out there to prove to ourselves that we’re the toughest group. Every single day, that’s what we try to prove to ourselves and just outwork our opponents. Having that mindset going into games has helped me stay confident because what we’ve been doing the whole preseason is playing hard and play harder than anybody.”
Neptune has liked what he’s seen so far, as his returners take a step forward and incoming transfers continue to assimilate into the program.
“They’re doing a great job,” Neptune said. “It’s something to be said about guys that are coming from a completely different system to fit in seamlessly. I think our new guys have done that. As we go, they’re only going to get better as they start to feel more comfortable.”
Aside from Moore and the transfers, Hausen’s career-high scoring night included six-made three-pointers. He shot an efficient 6-of-8 from beyond the arc in the victory. Mark Armstrong had nine points, two boards, four assists and no turnovers. Jordan Longino chipped in seven points, two boards, two assists and two blocks off the bench.
For Le Moyne, Luke Sutherland paced the Dolphins with 15 points and two blocks. Isaiah Salter had 10 points. The Dolphins were limited to shooting just 27.6% as a team during the second half.
Villanova now improves to 2-0 and will take on Penn on Monday. It will be the Wildcats’ first road game. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET from the Palestra.