VILLANOVA, Pa. — Just 30 seconds into Villanova's exhibition contest against Drexel Wednesday night at Jake Nevin Field House, Omari Spellman showed why he’s been touted as the future of the program.
The 6-9, 245-pound redshirt freshman spotted up in the right corner and drilled a beautiful, high-arching three-pointer for the game’s first points. He finished with nine points on 3 of 4 shooting, 12 rebounds (11 in the first half) and three blocks in 20 minutes, as Villanova, ranked No. 6 in the AP preseason poll, won, 87-68.
The game was the second of a men’s/women’s doubleheader organized to raise money for hurricane relief. All proceeds from the event will be donated to Unidos Puerto Rico to help Puerto Rican citizens affected by Hurricance Maria and Hurricane Irma. The Field House appeared nearly sold out, with Villanova fans almost filling the building to its 1,500-seat capacity.
Five Wildcats scored in double figures, with Jalen Brunson, the Big East Preseason Player of the Year, leading the way with 16. After Spellman’s three, Brunson split through the Drexel defense and converted an and-one. With a Spellman put-back, the score was 8-0 before the Dragons could blink.
Villanova freshman guard Collin Gillespie was a surprise inclusion in the starting five. Coach Jay Wright clarified after the game that Mikal Bridges and Eric Paschall were unavailable to start because both had to take a test. Wright took advantage of the exhibition to play around with several lineups, including a bigger unit with Spellman, Paschall and Bridges as the forwards. He said he hasn’t decided on a starting five.
“Omari, Mikal and Eric is a good lineup for us against some teams. We can also go small with just Mikal and Eric up front,” Wright said. “We were trying to look at those different lineups tonight.”
One benefit of playing Spellman with Bridges and Paschall was getting to see Spellman defend Drexel’s quick guards on the perimeter. Wright hopes that Spellman can emulate past ‘Nova big men like Daniel Ochefu who could handle opposing guards on the defensive end. He was encouraged by what he saw Wednesday.
“Omari showed some really good progress in that area tonight,” Wright said. “That was probably the best thing that came out of tonight. I thought Omari did a good job guarding some quick guys.”
The quickest Drexel guard was probably 5-9, 150-pound sophomore Kurk Lee. Despite his small stature, Lee had no problem staying in front of the bigger Villanova guards, created space off the dribble and kept his teammates involved. He tallied four assists and no turnovers in 31 minutes. However, Lee had trouble finishing with Spellman and Co. looming around the rim, shooting 4 for 16 on the night.
Though Villanova maintained its early momentum, building a 45-22 halftime lead, Drexel managed to outscore the Wildcats in the second half, 46-42. Villanova was sloppy at times in the second half, as the Wildcats finished with 21 turnovers.
Tadas Kararinas also gave Drexel a needed spark. The 6-10, 210-pound freshman from Lithuania scored 16 points in only 19 minutes, nailing all three of his three-point attempts and netting two jump hooks over Spellman in the post.
“Tadas showed everyone what we’ve seen him do, so that’s less of a secret,” Drexel coach Zach Spiker said. “We’re proud of him — I thought we had a lot of young guys who competed well.”
Spiker was without seniors Austin Williams and Miles Overton, both of whom are injured, but he expects the two to be ready for Drexel’s regular-season opener at home on Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. against Bowling Green.
Villanova’s opener is also on Nov. 10. The Wildcats host Columbia for an 8:30 p.m. tip at the Wells Fargo Center. Wright feels his team has plenty to improve.
“We have good potential, but we've got a lot of work to do,” Wright said. “Jalen, Phil (Booth) and Mikal are solid. And everybody else around them, we have to continue to get them better. We have to create a chemistry around those three.”
Villanova is a relatively young team, with no seniors who play regularly, and freshmen Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels poised to play significant minutes. Even though he’s just a redshirt freshman, Spellman plays with a maturity and confidence that belie his age. Could he be the key to that chemistry?
“He’s got great passion, great energy and the guys love playing with him,” Wright said. “I think he’s going to be a big part of everything we do.”
Villanova women dominate East Stroudsburg
It turns out that the scoreboard at Jake Nevin Field House doesn’t go up to 100.
This became clear late in the fourth quarter of the Villanova women’s 109-42 win over East Stroudsburg, a Division II opponent, in the first game of the doubleheader.
Leading 28-18 at the end of the first quarter, the Wildcats outscored East Stroudsburg 81-24 during the rest of the game. There were obvious, vast disparities in size and skill.
Adriana Hahn led Villanova with 21 points, and nine players scored eight points or more. The Wildcats were 18 of 35 from three-point range. Villanova out-rebounded East Stroudsburg by a 48-22 margin.
The Villanova women open the season on Nov. 10 at Hartford.