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Villanova opens 2023-24 season with 90-63 win over American

The Wildcats are back!

NCAA Basketball: American U. at Villanova Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

Hoops, America and Villanova basketball — what more can you ask for?

How about a Wildcat win?

Villanova’s second-half surge allowed them to pull away for a 90-63 season-opening victory against the American Eagles.

“Our goal coming into this game was to play harder than American and whatever happened from that we were going to live with, and I think our guys did a good job,” said Kyle Neptune to open his post game presser.

The Wildcats opened the second half with a 15-4 run to extend their lead into the 20s.

If there were any questions regarding how the new transfers would fit in, there was a key sequence in the second half where they looked bought in.

The sequence of the game happened where Tyler Burton, Nnanna Njoku and T.J. Bamba all dove for a loose ball on the court. American emerged from the scrum with possession, but it would be all for not when Justin Moore and Eric Dixon combined to send away Matt Rogers’ driving layup. The ‘Cats came back on the other end, and Tyler Burton promptly drilled a three.

“Yeah, I mean, that’s just Villanova basketball,” said Burton. “I mean, we go over it everyday, watch it on film, we talk about it everyday. You know, sacrificing yourself for the team, and earning your honor with your teammates, so I just say that’s Villanova basketball."

Villanova would go on to lead as high as 32 points, but it hardly looked back after building such a big margin.

In the first half, there was some rust to shake off. There was a back-and-forth start and the Eagles shot well as a team from deep, going into the break with a 40.0% mark from deep.

Villanova would buckle down, thanks to some key plays by Kentucky transfer Lance Ware, who thrived off the bench, blocking shots, stuffing home dunks and snatching some key rebounds.

The Wildcats gained separation thanks to a 20-6 first-half run and they eventually led, 41-31, at halftime.

Villanova had five double-digit scorers in the victory. Tyler Burton and Eric Dixon led the way with 15 points apiece. Burton also had seven boards and shot 5-of-9 overall, while Dixon added six boards, four assists and a block on a solid 6-of-10 shooting night.

Bamba had 13 points and made all three of his long-range shots, and had five boards and three assists. Hakim Hart chipped in 11 points, six rebounds, and three assists. Justin Moore had 10 points, three rebounds and two assists.

He also opened scoring by using his finesse in the post after backing down American’s Lorenz Donadio for an easy two for the first bucket of the season.

As for American, its top performances came off the bench. Colin Smalls led the Eagles with 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting. 7-foot center Jermaine Ballisager Webb added 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting.

Although it was a loss for the Eagles, there was some promise for first-year coach Duane Simpkins and his experienced squad.

On the Villanova side of things, there is a lot to be excited about. The biggest storyline to follow coming out of this week facing two teams ranked outside of the top-280 teams in KenPom (at the time of this publication), was if this team was going to pass the eye-test, which it did with flying colors.

“I like where we’re at right now. I think we can get a lot better, but just in terms of having you know, just the guys to stay in front of guys, guys to defend and rebound, I like what we have,” said Neptune.

This was the first time in the Kyle Neptune era that the Wildcats have eclipsed the 90-point mark as a team, and it took no time at all with this squad. While Neptune is happy with the offensive output, he may have been even more enthused by the performance on the other side of the ball.

“Yeah it’s great, it’s good. We’re not going to give any of the points back,” said Neptune jovially. “I was really even more proud of us on the defensively. Like I said, I think that is where we’re really going to have to lock in and continue to get better."

Eleven different players got playing time tonight and ten of them found the bottom of the net at some point. This game against American will certainly not be the Wildcats’ toughest match this season, but the important takeaway from game one is that they look all the part of a top-25 nationally ranked team.

Villanova will look to build off of this win on Friday against LeMoyne. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.