The countdown was over the second the ball went up in the air to mark the beginning of the regular season. This battle was set to last for two 20-minute halves and mark the first of many games in Villanova’s campaign. The #12 ranked Wildcats were to be tested immediately by their local neighbors from Lehigh. It was a home game away from home. They played in the new PPL Center in Allentown, PA, which is not too far from Darrun Hilliard‘s hometown of Bethlehem, PA. The Mountain Hawks were not going to be pushed around by the mighty Wildcats, as they kept it interesting for a while.
Lehigh raced to a quick 12-6 lead, before Villanova was able to close in and nail back-to-back threes thanks to Ryan Arcidiacono and Kris Jenkins. Both teams then really began to duke it out and trade blows. What one team did, the other quickly responded. With Villanova’s Daniel Ochefu on the bench early with foul trouble, that allowed Lehigh to get their way in the post. Big man Tim Kempton led the way for Lehigh through his play inside. He really got things going for the Mountain Hawks, scoring 11 of his 15 points in the first half alone. Meanwhile, Villanova struggled to find their rhythm offensively. They kept on attempting shots from the perimeter, but to no avail. They weren’t even bad shot attempts either, most of them were wide open as a result of good ball movement. As a team, they combined for 3-for-23 from beyond the arc in the first half. However, the press proved to be effective. The defense created scoring opportunities for the ailing offense. Lehigh struggled to hang onto the ball, as they tallied up ten turnovers which would become 12 Wildcat points. In the instances the Mountain Hawks were able to retain possession, they were pretty efficient. They made 51.9% of their shots in the first half, compared to Villanova’s 30%. However, the Wildcats hung onto a small 32-30 lead going into the break.
The lead wouldn’t last for long. Lehigh’s Austin Price came bursting out of the gate, setting the pace for the Mountain Hawks. Early in the second half, he took over. Price was nailing three-pointers and driving inside with ease. The sophomore guard had 17 of his career-high 24 points in the second half to help guide Lehigh. A pair of three pointers provided by Corey Schaefer and Miles Simelton would give the Mountain Hawks their biggest lead in the second half, a 46-40 advantage with 15:14 left in the game. However, as always, the Wildcats never go down quietly. They clawed their way back. A Darrun Hilliard three pointer tied the game up at 48 with 12:40 to go. From there, the Wildcats never relinquished the lead again. Their defense came through once again and shots started falling. A late run for Villanova doomed Lehigh, as they started to push the lead into double digits. The Wildcats rode the momentum coming down the homestretch and all the way to the finish line as the final buzzer sounded.
Villanova’s defense was a big catalyst in winning this game and keeping them in it. They forced 23 turnovers and converted them into 31 points. On the other hand, the Wildcats took good care of the ball – only losing it nine times. While it may not have been the homecoming performance that Darrun Hilliard wanted, shooting 4-for-18 for ten points and four steals, it was definitely the result he wanted. Overall, it wasn’t the prettiest game, but there’s plenty of basketball left and I’m sure they are still working out the kinks. A win is a win and that is all that matters.
Dylan Ennis was the high scorer for Villanova. He finished the game with 19 points, five rebounds, and five assists. Ryan Arcidiacono chipped in 16 points, seven rebounds, five assists, and three steals. JayVaughn Pinkston added another 11 points and seven rebounds.
For Lehigh, Tim Kempton finished with a double-double, with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Austin Price had 24 points, including four baskets from beyond the arc and three steals.
The Wildcats will play again on Monday, November 17th, when they host Maryland Eastern Shore. They will be back on their true home court at the Pavilion. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.