Villanova Wildcats

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.

No. 5 Villanova wins Battle 4 Atlantis title over Northern Illinois

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USA Today Images

No. 5 Villanova wins Battle 4 Atlantis title over Northern Illinois

BOX SCORE

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas -- Villanova coach Jay Wright loves playing in November tournaments, from the chance to learn how his team responds to early challenges and experiment with which lineups work best.

Of course, it helps that the fifth-ranked Wildcats keep winning trophies, too.

Mikal Bridges scored 18 points and Villanova pulled away down the stretch to beat Northern Iowa 64-50 in Friday's Battle 4 Atlantis championship game, marking the fifth straight season the Wildcats have won a November tournament.

Jalen Brunson added 16 points and was named the tournament's most valuable player for Villanova (6-0), which has 17 straight wins in these early season tournaments -- including a run to the 2013 Atlantis championship here in the Bahamas. They've won the 2014 Legends Classic, the 2015 NIT Season Tip-Off and the 2016 Charleston Classic since.

"There's a challenge coming here," Wright said. "Everything's taken care of for you here. You're treated like a king. But this is paradise. There's a lot of temptations here. And if you get caught up in that and that's more important to you than being a good basketball and a good teammate, that can affect you.

"These guys and the guys we've had over the years, they're really good basketball players. They're intelligent and they know this is an opportunity to play great competition -- and they take it very seriously."

The Wildcats led most of the way then used an 8-0 run in the final 4 minutes to turn away the Panthers (5-2) for their third win in as many days.

"It gives us great confidence right now, knowing that we've played pretty well as a team," Bridges said. "But it can also hurt if you get too satisfied with this and get complacent."

Juwan McCloud scored 13 points to lead the Panthers, who shot 42 percent and controlled the boards. But Northern Iowa made just 6 of 23 3-pointers and failed to get to the free-throw line in a game that had just 20 total fouls.

"We just didn't have quite enough offense today," Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said. "I love this team. And we're going to get better. And we're going to be right there when it matters."

Big picture
Northern Iowa: The Panthers finished with two wins in three games in the Bahamas, starting with a 61-58 win against SMU then getting a couple of late baskets to beat North Carolina State 64-60 on Thanksgiving day. They just couldn't complete the three-day run.

"The thing I liked the most was the toughness part of it," Jacobson said. "We came down here and we were tough."

Villanova: The Wildcats managed to avoid the trouble that befell fellow ranked teams No. 2 Arizona and No. 18 Purdue in Atlantis. They used a second-half spurt to pull away from Western Kentucky 66-58 in Round 1, then ran off a bigger one -- 23-2 -- to erase a double-digit deficit and beat Tennessee 85-76 in the semifinals. And Bridges' leap from last year has built a scary 1-2 punch with Brunson, a preseason Associated Press all-American.

"The thing I learned is we don't quit," Brunson said, adding: "I think we really got tested in this tournament."

The key sequence
The Panthers got within 51-45 on Spencer Haldeman's 3 with 5:33 left after trailing by double figures midway through the second half, but Klint Carlson missed a 3-pointer and a jumper with a chance to bring them even closer.

Phil Booth soon answered with a 3. Then, after Eric Paschall's score inside, Bridges hit a 3 off a crosscourt feed from Brunson to push the lead to 14 with 2:03 left.

Championship tests
Northern Iowa has already played the past two national champions, though this one went much better than the first meeting. The Panthers trailed by 31 points in a season-opening 86-69 loss at 2017 champion North Carolina despite the fact the Tar Heels were down two starters -- including Final Four most outstanding player Joel Berry II.

"I would say that this shows we can play with anybody in the nation," McCloud said.

Extra inspiration
Villanova's bench was a little deeper than usual.

Ten-year-old Asher Davies, from Canby, Oregon, met Wright before the game and sat at the end of the bench during the game as part of the Make-A-Wish program. Davies was also recognized during a first-half timeout.

"I know he's been struggling with an illness," Wright said. "And then we're getting ready for the game, we think it's all about us, it put us in a really good perspective before the game."

Up next
Northern Iowa: The Panthers host UNLV on Wednesday.

Villanova: The Wildcats host Penn on Wednesday.

No. 5 Villanova hangs on to beat Tennessee in Battle 4 Atlantis semifinal

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USA Today Images

No. 5 Villanova hangs on to beat Tennessee in Battle 4 Atlantis semifinal

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas -- Fifth-ranked Villanova walked into the locker room at halftime facing a double-digit deficit against Tennessee and several players battling foul trouble.

The way coach Jay Wright figured, there was at least one positive note: His Wildcats should be fresh and ready to roll out of the break.

Jalen Brunson scored 25 points to help Villanova rally from 15 down and beat Tennessee 85-76 in Thursday's semifinals at the Battle 4 Atlantis, earning a trip to the championship game.

The Wildcats (5-0) trailed 44-29 with 1:39 left before roaring out of the break with a dominating run. Villanova scored the first 11 points as part of that 23-2 burst, with the Wildcats playing far more aggressively and getting out in transition.

"I would love to tell you I came up with some great strategy," Wright said. "It was just we made it through the first half with everybody in foul trouble. ... We just said, `All right, we've got everybody back, let's go play, let's do what we were supposed to do.'"

Villanova shot 52 percent after halftime, fueled by Tennessee's 12 second-half turnovers that helped the Wildcats get loose on the break. The Wildcats also had an aggressive edge that got them to the line 24 times after halftime.

"That's how we should play, and throughout the whole game," said Mikal Bridges, who had 21 points. "You just saw parts of that today, in the beginning of the first half and the beginning of the second half. We practice every day trying to play like that for 40 minutes."

Villanova built a 15-point lead with 4:40 left before having to hold off a late rally by the Volunteers (3-1).

Grant Williams scored 20 points for Tennessee, which clawed to within 79-76 on Admiral Schofield's 3-pointer with 51.6 seconds left. But that was as close as the Volunteers got, with Villanova hitting four free throws and getting a breakaway dunk from Donte DiVincenzo with 13.2 seconds left to seal it.

"When they get points easily off turnovers, and out in transition, and also they get more possessions on offense, it's hard when you don't have those shot opportunities," Williams said. "I think their pressure really took us out of our offense.

"In the first half we did a good job of getting to what we wanted. In the second half, they just ran us out of what we wanted."

Big picture
Tennessee: The Volunteers were coming off an overtime win against No. 18 Purdue in the first round and they were poised to add an even bigger upset. But that flat second-half start wiped out a strong half's worth of work and squandered the momentum that came through their board work and converting turnovers.

"We went in and they were feeling pretty good obviously and they were saying all the right things," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. "But we didn't come out and do the right things."

Villanova: That's two straight days the Wildcats put together a second-half spurt to take control in the Bahamas. They did it in Round 1 against Western Kentucky to finally break the game open, but this one -- full of active hands, deflected passes and guys diving on the floor -- brought them back in a game that was once getting away from them.

Foul issues
Villanova had five players with at least two fouls by halftime, including starting forward Omari Spellman (three), Bridges (two) and Brunson (two). The game had a total of 52 fouls between the teams.

Brunson's scoring
Brunson scored 18 of his 25 points after halftime, finishing the game 8 of 16 from the field and 9 for 9 from the line to go with six assists.

"(Teammates) give me confidence," Brunson said. "Coach gives me confidence. I put the work in, I should have confidence in myself."

Second-half numbers
Villanova scored 14 of its 21 points off turnovers and 10 of its 12 fast-break points after halftime. The Wildcats also made 20 of 24 free throws after halftime and 33 of 37 for the game.

Up next
Tennessee: The Volunteers will play the North Carolina State-Northern Iowa loser in Friday's third-place game.

Villanova: The Wildcats will play the N.C. State-Northern Iowa winner in Friday's championship game.