Villanova Wildcats

Villanova puts fresh faces on display in season-opening win over Columbia

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Villanova puts fresh faces on display in season-opening win over Columbia

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Villanova head coach Jay Wright used the word “interesting” a few times during his postgame press conference following the No. 6 Wildcats’ season-opening 75-60 win over Columbia on Friday (see observations).

All of their home games will be interesting, he said, now that the Pavilion is undergoing renovations and they have to change their routine to play at the Wells Fargo Center, as they did Friday night. 

And the makeup of the team? Well, that’s interesting, too, as four freshmen have found their way into the regular rotation: Omari Spellman, Collin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and Jermaine Samuels.

Against Columbia, the new quartet combined to play 58 minutes with Spellman and Gillespie, especially, showing a lot of promise.

“Some of our young guys are getting their first taste,” Wright said. “That’s what we’re gonna have to do this year.”

This is somewhat of a new situation for Wright, whose teams don’t rely on one-and-done players like other nationally renowned programs. Freshmen certainly get the chance to start right away, as Jalen Brunson, now a junior leader, did two years ago on the Wildcats’ national championship team. But Villanova has never been quite this reliant on young players in Wright’s tenure.

“We’ve gotta get young guys experience,” the ’Nova coach said. “It might look bad early. It might hurt early. But we have the potential in the end to be a good team.

Nobody on ’Nova is more highly touted than Spellman, who got the start down low and finished with a double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds) in his first collegiate game. 

Spellman has more experience than the other three freshmen since he’s a redshirt freshman who was academically ineligible last season. But he displayed the same kind of early jitters, making some mistakes before getting calming pep talks from Brunson and Eric Paschall.  

“I like that he rebounded the ball,” Wright said. “For a big guy, that’s the most difficult offense to guard and he did it in his first game. … Decision-making, communicating defensively, all those things, he’ll get better. He’s just gotta play. He hasn’t played a game in two years.”

Gillespie’s college career also got off to an inauspicious start as he airballed his first shot. But Brunson watched the freshman guard closely after that play and was impressed that he couldn’t detect a negative reaction.

He was even more impressed when Gillespie drained his next two three-pointers.

“His confidence is off the charts,” Brunson said. “You don’t see a change in his demeanor or anything. Not just Collin but all the young guys. We’re gonna get on them. As leaders, we have to step up and show them how to play Villanova basketball. And it starts with me.”

Brunson, a first-team preseason All-American, certainly showed a lot of leadership abilities on Friday, and took matters into his own hands when needed, too. He finished with 14 points, second on the team to Paschall’s 15. 

Wright is counting on big things from the two, along with fellow upperclassmen Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges (who scored eight points apiece), as well as sophomore Donte DiVincenzo, who came off the bench to score 13 points but who Wright said will get “starter minutes” throughout the season.

“Having Jalen and the other experienced guys is really [big]. If you’re just depending on the young guys, we’d be in trouble,” Wright said. “They will make those guys better. They do a great job leading those guys.”

Villanova fans didn’t see as much out of Samuels or Cosby-Roundtree, who were both held off the scoring column. But Wright said Cosby-Roundtree, a 6-foot-9 forward out of Philly’s Neumann Goretti, has a chance to be a “really special player in our program.” 

And he was pleased he didn’t really make any mistakes and that the rest of the freshmen showed poise, great passing ability and basketball smarts in a challenging first game against a disciplined opponent.

“It’s not that easy for guys to play for us right away,” Wright said. “But they’re picking things up. It was really good tonight.

“They’re excited, they’re freshmen. They’re going to get a lot better.”

Edwards leads Purdue to rout of reigning champ Villanova

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Edwards leads Purdue to rout of reigning champ Villanova

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Carsen Edwards had a career night, scoring 42 points as Purdue knocked reigning national champion Villanova out of the NCAA Tournament Saturday night in an 87-61 rout.

Matt Haarms added 18 points and nine rebounds for the third-seeded Boilermakers (25-9), who advanced to their third straight Sweet 16.

Eric Paschall had 19 for Villanova (26-10), which saw its quest for a third national title in the last four seasons end during the tournament's first weekend. Fellow senior Phil Booth scored 15 points, putting him over 1,500 for his career.

Edwards has battled a sore back and had been in a recent shooting slump, making just 7 of 23 shots from the field in Purdue's first-round win over Old Dominion. He found the bottom of the net early and often against `Nova, making 12 of his 21 shots, including nine of 16 from behind the arc.

Purdue shot 54 percent while holding Villanova to just 20 baskets on 58 shots (34 percent).

Purdue jumped out early, building a 13-point lead thanks to Edwards' outside shooting and Haarms' work down low.

The 7-foot-3 Dutchman towered over the shorter Wildcats, who didn't start anyone over 6-8. He had Purdue's first four points on a dunk and a put-back. Edwards hit five of his nine first-half shots, all of which came from three-point range.

Purdue had nine three-point baskets in the first half and a dunk by Haarms put the Boilermakers up 43-24 at intermission.

Another dunk from the Dutchman extended the lead to 35 in the second half. Villanova chipped away but the sixth seeded Big East champions did not have weapons to make it a game.

Defending champion Villanova shows its experience in NCAA Tournament first-round win over Saint Mary's

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Defending champion Villanova shows its experience in NCAA Tournament first-round win over Saint Mary's

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HARTFORD, Conn. — Villanova got off to a slow start in defense of its NCAA championship against a determined, defensive-minded Saint Mary's team that came in confident after a season-defining win.

But the Wildcats, a No. 6 seed in this NCAA Tournament after an up-and-down season, have one thing no team in the field of 64 has: a pair of leaders who have won two national titles.

 NPhil Booth scored 20 points, fellow senior Eric Paschell added 14 and Villanova held off 11th-seeded Saint Mary's 61-57 on Thursday night.

"We're growing, our young guys are growing, but we have two seniors who do everything for us, on and off the court," coach Jay Wright said. "We're just so lucky to have them."

Sophomore Jermaine Sameuls added 12 points for the Wildcats (26-9), who led for almost 33 minutes, but never by more than eight points.

"The tempo was excruciating," Wright said. "We felt going in we were going to have to grind with them."

The Gaels used the same slow pace to upset Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference Tournament, and it gave them a chance against Villanova (26-9) in a tense opening-round matchup.

Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts each had 13 points for Saint Mary's (22-12). Ford's basket in the lane after a few nifty moves got the Gaels within six points at 61-55 with 34 seconds left.

After Paschell missed a foul shot on the other end, Fitts cut the deficit to four points with a leaner in the lane. The Gaels had two more chances in the final seconds, but Fitts hit the rim on a 3-point attempt and Villanova freshman Saddiq Bey stole the ball from Ford in the final seconds to seal the win.

"We had a few games this year where we put the press on and were able to get back in the game," said Ford. "And if we get a few of those loose balls, or maybe make a three when we were down four, I think it's a different game."

Saint Mary's led 30-28 at the half, but Booth scored the first five points after intermission during a 12-3 run that put the Wildcats up 40-33. He had 12 points and five of his six assists in the second half.

"We weren't doing that bad, actually," Booth said. "It was more that they were playing very well and we were trying to match how they were bringing it. I think we just had to take it to another level, because they were playing at a high level."

Big picture

Villanova: The defending champions are in the tournament for the 14th time in 15 seasons and improved to 14-1 since 2016.

Saint Mary's: The Gaels are 4-6 in opening-round games in the NCAA Tournament and 5-10 overall. Saint Mary's has advanced to the Sweet 16 once in the modern era when it beat the Wildcats in 2010. There's a reminder of that run in the hallway outside the locker room that the players see as they walk out to practice each day in McKeon Pavilion.

Empty arena

The game tipped to a relatively empty arena, but it wasn't because nobody had bought tickets.

Fans of the Wildcats, many of whom made the 4-hour drive from Philadelphia to Hartford, Connecticut, were lined up along with Gaels fans behind metal detectors as security emptied the arena from the afternoon session.

"You worry about those things, you know?" Wright said. "We have a lot of guys in the NCAA Tournament for the first time thinking, `This is the NCAA Tournament?' There's no one in the stands."

By halftime, the 16,000-seat XL Center was nearing capacity, but some frustrated fans were sill filing in.

From distance

The game was billed as a battle between one of the nation's top 3-point shooting teams in Villanova against some of the nation's best perimeter defenders. In the end, the Wildcats finished 8 of 20 from behind the arc, while Saint Mary's was 8 of 22.

On the boards

The taller Gaels won the rebounding battle 33-29 and 10-5 on the offensive end. The Wildcats didn't have an offensive board until the second half and that led to an 11-4 advantage for Saint Mary's in second-chance points. Wright said this year's team was hurt by the transfer of 6-foot-9 Dylan Painter, but is going to have to find a way against taller opponents.

Up next

Villanova will play No. 3 seed Purdue in the second round Saturday.