After a tough loss earlier in the week and some classic Villanova slow starts through the early parts of the season, Friday was a completely different story.
The Wildcats pounced all over visiting Maryland, enjoying a wire-to-wire bounce-back 57-40 victory.
Villanova set the tone from opening tip, building an early 17-3 lead. The ‘Cats went on to absolutely annihilate the Terrapins in the first half of the game. Maryland only mustered four made shots and shot 14.8% as a team in the first half, while the ‘Cats were off to a blistering start where everyone chipped in as they shot a red-hot 61.9% in the opening half.
“I was really proud of the way our guys competed, especially during the first 5-6 minutes, that was awesome to watch,” said Villanova coach Kyle Neptune in his opening statement.
When Maryland was bricking shots, it had untimely turnover after turnover, which left them not one, but TWO 3-4 minute-long scoreless dry spells. They never found a groove.
Meanwhile, Tyler Burton, T.J. Bamba, and Justin Moore managed to lead scoring to start, most of which came from the seemingly effortless layups they were able to sneak past the Terrapins’ defense. Add in the number of threes they consistently hit, and it’s a dangerous combo for their opponents.
In fact, Burton outscored Maryland’s entire team at one point, racking up 15 points before the team even reached that point total.
“Our focus was on the defense,” Burton said. “The offense was great, and our guys knocked down shots, but we were focused on the defense. We had to take the matchup seriously, follow the game plan, and just be aggressive.”
After a frustrating game against Penn, where the ‘Cats didn’t share the ball well, struggled to score and get timely stops, Friday was a much-needed return to form for the ‘Cats.
Their team chemistry was electric and each pass was coordinated beautifully, and even as their scoring dropped off in the second half as reserves came in, the ‘Cats remain connected defensively.
Villanova took a dominant 39-15 halftime lead.
Maryland had been known for their versatility on the court and its ability to limit three-point shots from their opponents. Not tonight. The ‘Cats were on-point from the three-point line, sinking six perimeter shots in the first half before finishing 7-of-18 overall. (38.9%)
Julian Reese and Jahmir Young, the dynamic duo Nova Nation was warned about, seemed to be off their game. Reese was limited to 10 points on 2-of-8 shooting, while Young had nine points on 3-of-10 shooting.
“I think Maryland is an extremely tough team, they have a versatile style,” Neptune said. “It’s hard to play them consistently because they’re constantly attacking you defensively.”
Maryland’s offense was sloppy, and its defense was even sloppier, as it quickly fell behind. Although they picked it up slightly in the second half and ended up closing the margin down to 17 points, it seemed to be a little too late. The ‘Cats cooled off and shot just 5-of-19 in the second half (26.3%), but the Terrapins didn’t catch fire and was limited to shooting 24.0% overall and 19.2% from deep.
Hakim Hart ended up being a secret weapon for the ‘Cats, as he was able to provide intel on the Terrapins’ strategy.
“Anytime you get a fifth-year guy in here, especially him coming from Maryland, has been really helpful,” Burton said. “[Hakim Hart] played a tremendous role in what we’re trying to do.”
Neptune jokingly referred to Hart as “Scout Hakim.”
Scout Hakim did add, though, that it was difficult for him to go up against his former teammates, “Personally, it was kind of hard for me, but I stayed focused.”
He finished with seven points on 2-of-6 shooting, and had two boards and a steal.
Maryland coach Kevin Willard had no comment in regard to going up against Hart.
Burton led the way with 15 points on 4-of-5 shooting, with six rebounds. Bamba had 11 points, three boards and two steals. With the lopsided margin, the ‘Cats went to their reserves early and nearly everyone got a good a mount of playing time. Moore chipped in eight points, three rebounds, two assists and one steal. Eric Dixon had seven points and eight rebounds.
The ‘Cats shot 45.0% overall and 38.9% from deep for the game, as they improved to 3-1.
It was a nice way to top off Mikal Bridges’ welcome home, as he got his jersey retired at halftime.
Neptune says the team’s only focus is now on the Battle 4 Atlantis during the Thanksgiving holiday break. The ‘Cats start with the the Texas Tech Red Raiders on Wednesday, Nov. 22, at 2:30 p.m. ET.