When Jay Wright first learned of N.J.I.T.’s upset victory over Michigan, the calm and collected coach was so surprised that he was at a loss for words. Well, not exactly. He did have two words, “Holy ____.”
Tonight, he got to see firsthand what N.J.I.T. was capable of. For a while, they gave the Wildcats a run for their money.
At first, it didn’t seem like they would pose a problem for the #7 ranked Wildcats. In the opening minutes of the game, Villanova got out to an 11-4 lead over N.J.I.T. The lead didn’t last for long. The threes started falling for the Highlanders. Three straight baskets from long range put them back into the game. A jumpshot by Winfield Willis tied things up at 15 with 13:01 remaining in the game. From there, the game went back and forth. Whatever one team did, the other found some way to match it and answer right back. Most of Villanova’s first half points came from working the post, while N.J.I.T. chose to approach the game from the perimeter. The Highlanders boasted a patient offense, always looking for the best shot opportunities. They capitalized on the Wildcats’ defensive miscues and missed assignments. Shots seamlessly fell on both ends. With or without pressure, it didn’t seem to frustrate whoever was shooting the ball too much.
With 3:27 remaining in the game, Jay Wright’s frustration reached its peak. Wright was unhappy with the officiating job on the court. He was irate, having to be held back by a few assistant coaches. Referees charged the Villanova head coach with a technical foul.
In the first half alone, Villanova shot a solid 52% overall and 4-for-10 from beyond the arc. The Wildcats had some issues making their free throws, only making 11 out of 18 attempts. Meanwhile, the Highlanders one-upped the Wildcats, shooting an even better 60% on the floor and 8-for-13 from three point range. Not only did it allow the unranked team to hang around, but it also allowed them to take the lead.
“That first half was a recipe for an upset,” said Jay Wright. “That was how they beat Michigan.”
A three pointer by Osa Izevbuwa put N.J.I.T. on top, Giving them a 42-39 lead with 53 seconds remaining in the half. A pair of free throws by Ryan Arcidiacono cut into the lead, but the Highlanders would have the last laugh. Tim Coleman provided the last two points of the half. The Highlanders took a 44-41 lead into the half.
The second half appeared to be more of the same. The Highlanders put up the first four points of the game, expanding their lead to seven points. Outside of a pair of free throws by JayVaughn Pinkston, a Dylan Ennis layup provided the first basket for Villanova, with 16:26 to go in the second half. As the magic started to wear off for N.J.I.T., Villanova started to storm back into the game.
“We’ve done it before. We’ve been here before,” said Ryan Arcidiacono. “We just had to have a sense of urgency we didn’t have in the first half.”
Ennis would strike again, driving to the basket for the game tying layup. The game was tied at 51 with 12:54 remaining. On the following possession, N.J.I.T.’s Izevbuwa had an ugly air ball. It only added to Villanova’s momentum. Arcidiacono would drive his way in for a layup to give Villanova the lead. From there, they never looked back. Arcidiacono and Phil Booth supplied back-to-back three pointers to add to their lead. Josh Hart, who started in the place of an injured Darrun Hilliard, added in a pair of free throws to give Villanova their largest lead of the game. The Wildcats now led 61-51 with 10:30 left in the game.
The Highlanders would respond with a basket to end the dry spell, but it wouldn’t make a difference. Villanova played Villanova basketball – solid defense, excellent ball movement, and everyone getting involved in scoring. The Wildcats were able to draw a number of fouls and do their damage from the free throw line. They did a better job of making their foul shots in the second half, going 21-for-26. On the other hand, N.J.I.T.’s offense imploded. The Wildcats’ kicked up the defensive intensity and held their opponents to 9-for-31 shooting.
Villanova simply dominated N.J.I.T. on all layers of the game in the final 13 minutes of the game. After the game was tied at 51, the Wildcats outscored the Highlanders 41-16. The lead became too great that everyone on Villanova’s roster was able to get some minutes on the floor. The final score was 92-67.
Six Wildcats finished with double digit scoring performances – Dylan Ennis (17), Ryan Arcidiacono (16), Phil Booth (14), Daniel Ochefu (13), JayVaughn Pinkston (12), and Kris Jenkins (11). Ochefu had another double-double, finishing with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
For the Highlanders, Damon Lynn finished with 13 points and four rebounds. Tim Coleman added 12 points and four assists. Osa Izevbuwa came off the bench and chipped in 11 points. Winfield Willis had 10 points and four boards before fouling out.
The Wildcats improve to 12-0, going undefeated in the out-of-conference portion of their schedule. They will take a short break for Christmas before gearing up for the Big East games begin. Once again, Villanova will take on Butler on New Year’s Eve. Tip-off is at 2:30 p.m.