Villanova basketball finally kicked off its regular season tonight in the Wells Fargo Center, and the crowd was electric once again. While Villanova did not quite play up to expectations, the Wildcats still defeated the Columbia Lions by a final score of 75-60 to win their first game of the young season.
While Villanova got off to a 7-0 start in the first half, Columbia was able to hang tough all through the game. Leading the way for the Lions was sophomore guard Mike Smith, who finished with 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists. The 5-foot-eleven sparkplug was able to slice through the Villanova defense, but was not very efficient, going 7 of 21 from the field. Senior guard Kyle Castlin also cracked double digits for Columbia, finishing with 10 points and six rebounds on only five attempts from the field.
Leading Villanova in scoring was redshirt junior Eric Paschall, who finished with 15 points and 9 rebounds. Paschall had 5 offensive rebounds on the night and consistently bullied the Columbia big men inside on his way to shooting 6 for 7 inside the three point line. Preseason All-American Jalen Brunson had a stellar game in his first game as the first option offensively, with 14 points and a calming presence, especially for many of the young players.
Mikal Bridges played with incredible intensity for the Wildcats, scoring 8 points including a thunderous dunk over Columbia defender Lukas Meisner which set the Wells Fargo Center alight. Bridges is looking to improve his aggressiveness offensively in his junior year, and he and Paschall set a gritty tone for the rest of the team to follow their lead.
Hyped redshirt freshman Omari Spellman also had a double-double in his collegiate debut, notching 11 points and 11 rebounds, including 6 on the offensive glass. The Wildcats had four players including Spellman play their first games, with true freshmen Collin Gillespie, Dhamir-Cosby Roundtree, and Jermaine Samuels all logging minutes in the game. Gillespie finished with 6 points on the night, making 2 threes on 5 attempts.
Head coach Jay Wright spoke positively about the play of his young players, saying “Omari hasn’t played in two years, Dada (Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree) is playing his first game...and Collin airballed his first three, but they’re excited and they will definitely get better”.
However, it was not all positive for the Wildcats, as the team shot only 40.3% from the field and 21.9% from three in their first game back for the year. To perform like that against Columbia, who was 153rd in opposing FG% last year, is not a performance to be praised, but Wright was confident that this would improve, saying “We didn’t take any bad shots, they just weren’t going in”.
The Wildcats move to 1-0, and play their next game on Tuesday in the Wells Fargo Center against the Nicholls State Colonels. Tip off is at 6:30 PM and will be televised on Fox Sports 1.