eric paschall

No. 1 Villanova sets school record ... again

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USA Today Images

No. 1 Villanova sets school record ... again

BOX SCORE

The No. 1 team in the nation continued to show why it’s the No. 1 team in the nation.

Led by 21 points from Mikal Bridges and 19 from Jalen Brunson, top-ranked Villanova rolled to a 98-78 Big East win over a good Creighton squad on Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Wildcats (21-1 overall, 8-1 Big East) have now won eight straight following their only loss of the season, a 101-93 setback at Butler on Dec. 30. 

Marcus Foster had a team-high 20 points for Creighton (17-6, 7-4).

• Head coach Jay Wright has been stressing defense in recent weeks but this team just keeps putting on offensive shows. In threatening to score 100 points for the fifth time this season, the Wildcats shot a whopping 54.5 percent from the field and 48.7 percent from three-point range with all five starters hitting double figures. In addition to Bridges and Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo had 17, Omari Spellman 14 and Eric Paschall 11.

• Villanova made 19 three-pointers, which ties the school record that was set earlier this season in a win over St. Joe’s on Dec. 2. 

• Unlike some teams who get rattled or scared vs. ’Nova, Creighton actually seemed up for this game from the start, taking leads of 6-3 and 8-6 before the first media timeout. It’s a testament to Villanova’s relentlessness for not only quickly retaking the lead but also never letting the Bluejays sniff the lead again.

• Villanova showed its three-point touch early in a cool way as four different players hit threes for the team’s first 12 points, including big men Spellman and Paschall.

• Spellman kept hitting threes, shooting 4 for 7 from distance for the game. That’s such a nice advantage when a 6-foot-8, 260-pound player can do that.

• Brunson showed again why he’s a national player of the year candidate. Fresh off a carer-high 31 points in Saturday’s 85-82 win at Marquette, the junior point guard came through with some big shots in the first half, including a four-point play that gave the Wildcats a commanding 40-22 edge. He also scored five points in a row after Creighton tied it up at 18-18 and had 17 points before the break.

• Although Brunson didn’t score as much in the second half, he had a rebound in traffic over 6-foot-11 center Jacob Epperson, got hit, and then threw it off Epperson while falling out of bounds. In many ways, it was a play that epitomizes Brunson, who Xavier coach Chris Mack recently said probably has “wires coming out” of his face.

• Bridges, who looks more and more like a lottery pick every day, is just so smooth when he pulls up for a jumper off the dribble. And his athletic drive late in the first half helped ’Nova take a 49-34 lead into halftime, from which Creighton would never recover.

• The bench play without Phil Booth (fractured bone in right hand) will likely be a concern as the Wildcats roll into March. But freshmen Collin Gillespie (eight points) and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (six points) did a lot of good things as the only two guys Wright brought in off the bench. Gillespie hit a couple of threes and had five assists. And in one quick spurt in the second half, Cosby-Roundtree had a block, an offensive rebound and a defensive rebound (though he did miss a close-range shot). 

• One example of how much the Wildcats were clicking on offense: they had 13 assists on 19 field goals in the first half.

• The media members got a special visit from Creighton’s Toby Hegner, who crashed into press row in the first half. Only a cup of soda was injured in the fray.

• Some of the biggest cheers in the game came when Villanova’s walk-ons got some nice run in the final two minutes and senior Matt Kennedy hit a basket in the lane.

• This is the sixth consecutive season, and the 13th time in the past 14 years, that Villanova has recorded 20 or more victories in a season. Thursday’s win was their 150th, against only 18 losses, since the start of the 2013-14 season. That’s, um, really good.

• Wright won his 407th game at Villanova, moving to within six of the program’s all-time wins leader, Alexander Severance.

• Interestingly enough, Creighton’s last trip to the Wells Fargo Center produced a stunning 96-68 rout of then-No. 4 Villanova. Led by Ethan Wragge and Doug McDermott, the Bluejays went 9 for 9 on three-pointers on their first nine possessions and finished with a school-record 21 for the game.

• This is a big week for Villanova, which returns to the Wells Fargo Center to host Seton Hall at noon on Super Bowl Sunday. Along with Xavier, Seton Hall and Creighton are probably the only teams with a real shot of knocking Villanova off its Big East perch.

• The Wildcats then stay home to face last-place St. John’s and Butler to round out a four-game homestand.

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."