Eugene Rapay (@erapay5)
After a slow start in the preseason exhibition game with Pace University on Sunday afternoon, it looked like a different team took the floor on Friday night.
The Wildcats got off to a quick start, taking the lead from the get go. Villanova notched its first win of the season, going wire-to-wire en route to a 91-54 victory over Fairleigh Dickinson.
“We played pretty well,” coach Jay Wright said. “I liked the way we started, I liked that we kept our intensity.”
The Wildcats looked to use its size to its advantage early on. Fairleigh Dickinson, which only has two players taller than 6-foot-6, did not have the manpower to rival Villanova’s 6-11 center, Daniel Ochefu.
Ochefu was called upon to start things off for the Wildcats. He received a number of entry passes that he finished around the rim to get Villanova going.
When he wasn’t scoring, he gave the Knights’ interior a hard time as he collected rebounds on the offensive end. Some of which became second chance points.
On the other end of the court, he continued the strong rebounding presence and gave the Knights’ a hard time driving into the paint. The senior center finished with a double-double, scoring 16 points and grabbing 10 boards.
“Daniel is a beast, we saw it out there tonight,” Villanova point guard Ryan Arcidiacono said. “We had to show him some love too because he was just a beast out there defensively and offensively.”
With Ochefu’s strong performance inside, it opened up the floor for the Wildcats to spread the ball around. Villanova used a balanced attack to chip away at the Knights. Every player in its starting lineup finished the game with at least 10 points.
The Wildcats took a 50-22 lead into halftime.
Despite the lopsided lead, the Wildcats were not perfect in the first half. There were a handful of errant passes that went right into the clutches of the Knights. Aside from that, they shot a subpar 27.8 percent from long range.
Villanova, which heavily depends on 3-pointers, was able to get away with it against competition like Fairleigh Dickinson but may struggle against tougher teams down the road.
However, with the 3-pointers not there, the Wildcats found other ways to manage. The defense resumed its hard-nosed play, forcing turnovers, with the Wildcats converting them into 15 points.
Villanova also continued to bully Fairleigh Dickinson on the boards, holding a 53-37 rebounding advantage for the whole game.
It was the regular season debut for Villanova’s newcomers. The highly-anticipated Jalen Brunson was the primary ball handler and mainly looked to facilitate. He appeared much more comfortable on the floor than he did in the Pace exhibition game last weekend.
“It comes from the confidence of my teammates,” Brunson said. “They always bring me up, they just try to make me look at the next play and not dwell in the past.”
He was 4-for-6 on the floor en route to a 12-point and four-assist performance.
As for Villanova’s other active freshman, Donte Divincenzo, he impressed more on the rebounding end. Divincenzo logged 18 minutes, scoring only five points, but collected five rebounds.
“We got some young guys,” Wright said. “We got a lot of work to do. A lot of work, but it was a good start.”