eric paschall

Omari Spellman, Villanova experiment in exhibition win over Drexel

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Noah Levick/NBC Sports Philadelphia

Omari Spellman, Villanova experiment in exhibition win over Drexel

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.

With 52-point bench explosion, Villanova positioned well in Big East Tournament

With 52-point bench explosion, Villanova positioned well in Big East Tournament

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- Josh Hart was at his locker raving about the huge contribution made Thursday by the Villanova bench in the Wildcats' historic blowout of St. John's.

It was pointed out to him that the bench scored 52 points in Villanova's record-setting 108-67 win over the Red Storm in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals.

Hart smiled broadly.

"Fifty-two points? From the bench?" he said.

"Hey, bench guys!" he yelled across the locker room at Madison Square Garden. "I see you all today!"

Then Hart reeled off the numbers

"Eric had 17, Dylan had 10, Tay had, what, 25?" Hart said. "Who else is on the bench? I think that's the bench! That's the bench!"

Villanova, which went only six deep much of this season, is a different team now.

Freshman Donte DiVincenzo ("Tay") scored a career-high 25 points, sophomore transfer Eric Paschall added 17 and rarely used freshman Dylan Painter -- playing a career-high 22 minutes with soph Mikal Bridges out with a stomach virus -- added career highs of 10 points and six rebounds.

Starters: 56 points.

Bench: 52 points.

"They played great," said Hart, Villanova's national Player of the Year candidate. "I think what really impressed us more so than the scoring was how they just played hard defensively and kept playing hard even when we got a lead.

"A lot of times when you're younger you don't understand that every possession matters. So in a game like this for a younger guy you go in (thinking), 'All right, time for me to go get some buckets now.'

"But for them, our upperclassmen set a tone: 'This is how we're going to play Villanova basketball,' and they got in and weren't worried about scoring and that's great."

No. 2 Villanova tied the Big East Tournament record for biggest margin of victory, set a school record for most points in a Big East tourney game and also recorded the largest margin of victory ever in a series against St. John's that goes back 96 years.

And they did it without high-flying Mikal Bridges, who left the game after one minute with a stomach virus and never returned.

The bench guys combined to make 16 of 18 shots from the field, 7 for 9 from three and 13 for 15 from the foul line.

"It's no surprise to us," Paschall said. "We know what each other is capable of. We see each other every day in practice, we know what we can do. We have to sacrifice our game for the better of the team, so when our opportunity comes we take advantage of it."

DiVincenzo, averaging 7.0 points per game against the rest of the world, had his third huge game this year against St. John's, following performances of 19 and 20 points with a 25-point career high on 7 for 8 from the field and 5 for 6 from three.

Paschall made six of seven shots for 17 points and added five rebounds, and Painter -- who is averaging 0.5 points per game -- contributed 10 points and six boards.

"Our philosophy is next-man-up," Painter said. "There's no dropoff when somebody goes down."

The starters did OK, too.

Kris Jenkins contributed 24 points and a season-high six assists. Jalen Brunson made five of eight shots for 14 points and added five assists, and Hart had a typical game with 15 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals.

But it was the first time in at least eight years that three Villanova reserves reached double figures in scoring.

And when you have to play three games in three days to win the Big East Tournament, a deep bench really helps.

"When you have legitimately eight guys and one guy goes down, you're bringing in two good players," coach Jay Wright said.

"You could have eight bodies, but we're fortunate to have eight really good players, so you can get through a game like that. Three in a row might be tough."

When Villanova lost starting center Darryl Reynolds for five games with a rib injury down the stretch, it gave all the reserves a chance at more minutes, and Wright said that is now paying off.

"Darryl being out tired us out a little bit but it made Donte a lot better, it made Dylan a lot better and it made Eric a lot better," he said. "And they all now have the confidence to be ready for whatever they have to do."

Villanova shot 63.2 percent from the field, its best ever in a Big East Tournament game. Their previous best was 61.5 percent in a win over Boston College in 1982.

The 108 points broke the school record for scoring in the tournament by 12. The Wildcats beat Pitt 96-63 in overtime in 1998.

And the 41-point margin of victory tied the conference tournament record set by Syracuse in a 96-55 win over Boston College in 1999.

Villanova, now 29-3, will face No. 5 seed Seton Hall at 6:30 p.m. Friday in the semifinals.  

And they'll do it with a lot more than just five players.

"The bench playing like that is huge for us," Jenkins said. "It's huge for us. Because we have eight guys who can play, they're all threats, and they pick up the energy defensively and rebounding.

"That's what Villanova basketball is all about: making sacrifices, giving yourself up for the betterment of the team. We've all done it. Those guys could all start (at other schools).

"When you come here you're going to be a part of great teams. Great players sacrifice."

Eric Paschall's game rounding out when Villanova needs it most

Eric Paschall's game rounding out when Villanova needs it most

Those on the outside are now starting to see what those on the inside of Villanova basketball program have seen for the last year and a half.

Eric Paschall can play.

Paschall on Saturday had the biggest game of his career -- at least his Villanova career -- with 19 points, six rebounds and two steals in the Wildcats’ Big East-clinching win over Creighton at the Pavilion.

With Darryl Reynolds sidelined since early February with a rib injury, the Fordham transfer has been starting and playing at a high level. But he was at his best Saturday when his team needed him the most.

Paschall was essentially a guard at Fordham, but with Reynolds out and Omari Spellman forced to sit out the year, Paschall has been playing a lot of the 5 for Villanova, and against Creighton, he effectively neutralized 6-foot-11 Blue Jays center Justin Patton, who managed just four points -- 9½ below his average.

"He's getting better, that's the biggest thing," teammate Josh Hart said of Paschall. "He's down there battling with Patton, a 7-footer, he's down there battling with 6-10, 6-11 guys just about every night, and he's battling and battling and we just tell him, keep working like that. That's more important to us than him going out there scoring 20.

"We know he's talented enough to score 20, you saw that (Saturday), but the way he's battling and the way he's not being frustrated and just keeps getting better, for us that's the best part."

Paschall averaged 15.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game two years ago for the Rams, earning Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year honors.

He was one of only three NCAA Division I freshmen who averaged at least 15.9 points and 5½ rebounds per game. The others were D'Angelo Russell of Ohio State and Jahlil Okafor of Duke, who are both now double-digit scorers in the NBA.

But to play at Villanova, you have to play defense, and that's where Paschall has shown the most improvement.

"Eric is developing as a Villanova basketball player defensively in terms of executing far better than anyone knows," coach Jay Wright said. "We know. When he's in the game, we are executing at a high level. We're just starting to see what he can do offensively, but in our program, you've got to be able to (play defense) first and he's been doing that all year.

"(He's) getting better and better, and today you just saw a glimpse of what you'll probably see next year, but you've got to get the basics down first, which he's done an incredible job of this year. It's like I tell you with Dante (DiVincenzo), these guys play against him in practice, they're not surprised when they see him do that, but I know everybody else is because they don't get to see it all the time."

It's not easy to transfer into a new program and get used to new players, a new coach, a new system, a new philosophy.

"It was a process," Paschall said. "The biggest thing was getting used to what they wanted, and that's defense and rebounding. That took some getting used to, but once I understood what they were looking for from me and what they wanted me to do, that just made it easy.

"The guys welcomed me with open arms. It's a brotherhood here and we're all brothers and they made me feel like I was a part of it from Day 1. It can be hard sometimes as a transfer coming in, but they made it easy. It's just a matter of focusing on my job."

Overall, Paschall is averaging 7.1 points and 3.8 rebounds per game and shooting 50 percent from the field in an average of 21 minutes a night. But during these last five starts, he's 21 for 32 from the field (66 percent) and is averaging 9.8 points per game.

"Eric, he came in knowing what coach wanted, knowing what coach’s philosophy is and how coach wants things, and he's come and in done what's expected," Jalen Brunson said.

'He's done a great job for us and we're extremely confident in him. It's hard coming in front a different school, coming in and learning a new system, learning the philosophy, but he's done a good job."

Paschall can play the 2 through the 5, so he gives Wright a lot of versatility.

His 19 points Saturday were his most as a Wildcat and his most in any game since he scored 21 for Fordham vs. George Mason on Feb. 18, 2015.

When asked about his role, he just pointed at Hart and Kris Jenkins.

"Just listen to these guys, making sure I have my head clear every game," he said. "They do a great job of telling me what to do during the games and having my attitude right during the games so I can just go out there play hard, play together, play smart, and that’s what I'm trying to do."

As thin as Villanova is -- Wright has played just six guys in his regular rotation since Reynolds got hurt -- Paschall has been a life-saver.

It's hard not to imagine how talented Villanova will be next year with Spellman, Paschall, Mikal Bridges, Phil Booth, Brunson and DiVincenzo.

But first, there's a game Saturday against Georgetown, the Big East Tournament in New York and then the NCAA Tournament.

"We see him getting better every day with his decision making," Hart said of Paschall. "Last year he definitely kicked our butt a lot when he was on the scout team.

"One thing we always had a question about was how was he going to fit in with just playing hard the way we play defense, and he's doing the best job, and he keeps getting better, and seeing him develop and seeing him grow has been amazing. Looking forward to seeing what he's going to do in the future."