The Wildcats roll on to 3-0 with a win Friday night at home against East Tennessee State, beating the Buccaneers 86-51.
East Tennessee State, who scored 100+ points in its first two wins, came out strong offensively and looked like it was going to score a lot of points.
The Buccaneers grabbed a quick 9-4 lead by draining three-pointers and collecting offensive rebounds. The Wildcats were beaten early on the boards.
“Defensively and rebounding we have to get better,” said Villanova head coach Jay Wright.
They seemed sluggish until a couple of early substitutions pinned the bench in a spot to spark the team.
Heading into the first media time out, the Wildcats eventually tied the game at 11.
“Once we got it going, I thought we were pretty good defensively,” Wright said.
Shaking off a slow start, the bench helped Villanova take the lead. Once the starters got back into the game, it was full speed ahead.
Villanova began to light it up with back-to-back threes from Donte DiVincenzo and Jalen Brunson, sparking an impressive a 24-0 run that lasted six minutes.
Just when East Tennessee State started to show some life by breaking the dry spell, Villanova came right back with some three pointers. The Wildcats enjoyed a 42-22 lead going into the half.
The ‘Cats cruised right on through the second half with no trouble and continued to separate themselves from the struggling ETSU offense.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats’ defense was stellar, limiting the highflying Buccaneers’ offense to just 19-of-59 (32.2%) shooting on the floor.
They also forced them to turn the ball over 17 times, creating plenty of scoring opportunities. Villanova converted them into 29 points.
The Wildcats could have taken it inside or on the perimeter – it didn’t matter. The Buccaneers failed to keep up with their versatility and their personnel.
One such problem for them was Daniel Ochefu, who continued to impress in the paint offensively and on the boards. It had his third straight double–double, finishing the game with 12 points and 16 rebounds. He even added a couple of powerful blocks.
“I thought Daniel was outstanding from the start,” said coach Wright, “I’m happy with him, I really am”.
As for the rest of the team, four other Wildcats scored in double figures. Kris Jenkins celebrated his birthday with a game-high 17-point performance.
“We won, so it was good, it was good,” Jenkins said.
It took him a little time to settle in, but once he got the hot hand, he was just fine.
Phil Booth added 16 points and five rebounds. He showed off a slick crossover dribble move to break a defender’s ankles, before sinking a mid-range jumper. He is relishing in his new role as a sixth man.
Ryan Arcidiacono, who was limited and scoreless in the first half, turned things around in the second half. He scored his first couple of points in the opening minutes, and went on to finish with 11 points and a perfect 3-for-3 from long range.
Josh Hart rounded things off with 10 points and seven boards.
“We have an offensive depth this year, when last year we had a defensive depth,” Wright said.
The defensive and rebounding aspects of the game are something that they will continue to fine tune as the season unfolds.
As for East Tennessee State, the only standout was T.J. Cromer, who finished with 12 points and two rebounds. He was the lone Buccaneer to finish with at least ten points, a stark contrast to the high scoring numbers each player put up going into the game.
The Wildcats are back in action on Sunday afternoon, facing the Akron Zips at home. Tip-off is at 4:30 pm. It will be their last game before heading up to Brooklyn for the NIT Season Tip-off Tournament.