The No. 11 ranked Villanova Wildcats started off their 2015-16 season with a solid 91-54 victory over Fairleigh Dickinson on Friday night at the Pavilion. Senior center Daniel Ochefu led the way for the Wildcats with a double-double, posting 16 points and 10 rebounds in the contest.
Going up against a much smaller FDU frontcourt, Ochefu took full advantage of the size mismatch and controlled the paint all night for Villanova. Led by Ochefu, the ‘Cats outrebounded the Knights 53-37 and outscored FDU 41-16 in the paint.
Tonight was also the much-anticipated debut of standout freshman guard Jalen Brunson in a Villanova uniform. To no one’s surprise, Brunson did not fail to impress on Friday night. Brunson finished with 12 points and a team-high four assists in the game, as Villanova finished with 20 assists on the night.
“The experience was amazing being able to finally put the jersey on and get out there with my teammates,” Brunson said. “I just try to stay aggressive, make the right play, and get my teammates open opportunities.”
Despite looking sloppy at some points on the offensive end, the Wildcats shot an impressive 46 percent from the field in the contest. Along with Ochefu’s 16 points and Brunson’s 12 points, junior forward Kris Jenkins finished with 14 points in the contest. Senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono finished with 12 points as well, while junior guard Josh Hart poured in 10 points. Villanova finished with 27 points off the bench, 17 fast break points, and 14 second chance points on the night.
The Wildcats did a good job at running the offense through Ochefu and feeding their big man in the paint. By running the offense through Ochefu, it establishes the big fella’s presence down low and forces opposing defenses’ to collapse on him. As a result, it opens up opportunities along the perimeter for Villanova’s sharpshooters to knock down open jumpers.
While the offense looked good overall, the Wildcats did shoot a rather poor 28 percent from three-point land. Villanova can get notoriously three-happy, which can backfire quickly even when the Wildcats’ shots are falling. It will be imperative for the Wildcats to not get too obsessed with the three point shot as the season rolls along and tougher opponents arise on the schedule.
It was on the defensive end where Villanova was most impressive Friday night. The ‘Cats held FDU to a putrid 27 percent shooting from both the field overall and from three on the night. In addition, Villanova’s stingy defense forced FDU into 13 turnovers on the night and had 15 points off turnovers.
The Wildcats were also able to limit FDU to only 15 points off the bench, nine fast break points, and seven second chance points. In order to repeat as Big East champions and make a deep run in March, the Wildcats will need to first and foremost play well defensively.
Another interesting storyline which came out of Friday night’s game was the point guard trio of Arcidiacono, Brunson, and sophomore Phil Booth. Jay Wright went with a three-guard lineup to start tonight, with Arcidiacono and Brunson starting alongside Hart in the backcourt. From the tip, Brunson was the primary conductor and ball-handler in the offense while Arcidiacono and Booth played off the ball when on the court with Brunson.
Nevertheless, the trio is earning impressive comparisons already after one game in the books. Many see the trio of Brunson, Arcidiacono, and Booth as very similar to the trio of Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, and Maalik Wayns from a few years ago at Villanova. It will be interesting to see how Coach Wright continues to manage his three point guards this season.
“I like how Jalen knows how to make people better and still be aggressive on offense”, said head coach Jay Wright.
FDU sophomore guard Darian Anderson led all scorers on the night with 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting from the field and 5-of-8 from three-point land. Along with his strong performance Friday night, Anderson has deep connections to the Villanova basketball family. Darian’s older brother, Dwayne Anderson, played at Villanova from 2005-2009 and was a member of the 2009 Final Four team under Coach Wright.
“That was a good start for us,” Wright said. “We played pretty well and I like how we kept our intensity up all game.”
The Wildcats will return to the floor on Tuesday night at the Pavilion against Nebraska at 8:30 PM.