It’s finally here – March Madness, the NCAA Tournament, the Big Dance, you know the drill. There were a number of big upsets earlier in the day, but the Wildcats were going to avoid the trend.
The Wildcats went wire-to-wire, holding the lead for all 40 minutes of the game. Dylan Ennis made the first basket of Villanova’s NCAA Tournament journey.
Villanova came out firing, not allowing itself to get off to another slow start with Lafayette. In last year’s regular season opener, the Leopards hung around for a majority of the game until the cold-shooting Wildcats were able to find their groove. This time around, they did not take the Patriot League champions lightly.
“From that game, our guys knew how good this team was,” said Jay Wright. “We didn’t have to try to convince them of that. I’m just proud of how well they responded.”
The Wildcats put together a dominant, complete victory over the Leopards. A Darrun Hilliard layup made it 19-8 with 10:35 remaining in the first half. Offensively, Villanova was able to execute perfectly in the post and on the perimeter.
The size advantage that the Wildcats had through JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu gave the Wildcats was too much for Lafayette to handle. The Leopards simply did not have the size upfront to compete with the height disadvantage. Both Pinkston and Ochefu were able to post up on their opponents with ease and finish. They made their mark from the very beginning, combining for 16 first half points, a perfect 7-for-7 shooting performance, and eight rebounds.
With Pinkston and Ochefu anchoring the middle, Villanova’s guards were able to control the perimeter. Ryan Arcidiacono and Dylan Ennis found much success from beyond the arc. As a team, Villanova was pouring it on from long range, making 11-of-22 three point attempts.
Defensively, the Wildcats were stellar once again. Their press helped force 15 turnovers. Villanova’s effort to contain Lafayette’s band of sharpshooters may have been the most respectable performance of the night. The second-best three point shooters in all of the NCAA was held to just 4-of-18 shooting from long range. Villanova hugged the perimeter tightly, barely giving Lafayette’s shooters any room to operate.
One of the few three pointers that were able to fall for Lafayette made it 21-13. It would be the closest that the Leopards got to snatching the lead. Villanova continued to play its high-energy basketball on both ends of the court, as a result, they took a 23 point lead into the half.
The second half was when the game got too overwhelming for Lafayette. It was a mere formality, Villanova had complete control of the game, the second half was an opportunity for Villanova to make that run. At one point in the game, the Wildcats were able to stretch their lead into the 40s. While it did not lost long, it was apparent that Villanova was going to walk away with a win.
The Wildcats cruised to victory, with everyone getting in on the action. Villanova won 93-52.
Villanova displayed its depth and unselfishness. Six players finished in double figures, a true testament to their philosophy. Dylan Ennis had a team-high 16 points. He also had five assists. Daniel Ochefu was one rebound shy of a double-double, chipping in 14 points, nine rebounds, and three blocks. Ryan Arcidiacono had 13 points and six assists. Hilliard and Pinkston both finished with 12 points each. Lastly, Kris Jenkins had ten points off the bench.
“We don’t have that one go-to guy, “said Dylan Ennis. “Everyone’s there to work hard and we’re really gritty. But it comes from the defensive end. Shots are going to fall if we play good defense.”
For Lafayette, Dan Trist was the main man. Trist had one of his top games, going on to finish with a game-high 19 points and nine rebounds. Seth Hinrichs contributed 13 points, three rebounds, and four assists.
The Wildcats move on to play N.C. State on Saturday. Tip-off time, to be announced.