After an NCAA Tournament opening day slate highlighted by a few massive upsets and dramatic overtime finishes, Delaware hoped to do the same against Villanova on Friday.
The Blue Hens rumbled with the Wildcats for the first 12 minutes, but then Villanova heated up from long range, before pulling away for a 80-60 NCAA Tournament opening round win.
It was an ugly start for ‘Nova, who saw Delaware lead by as high as seven in a low-scoring start between both teams. Then, an and-one by Brandon Slater, followed by the Wildcats’ first three-pointer from Collin Gillespie seemed to spark the ‘Cats offensively.
“It took us some time to adjust to their speed and their intelligence, as we tried to figure out what they were doing,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “We just couldn’t guard them. Their defense was very intelligent. Took us some time for us to figure that out too, and I think our guys did.”
Villanova eventually tied up the game, then went on a game-changing 23-2 run that started in the first half and spilled into the second.
The Wildcats closed the first half on a 15-2 run to take a 35-25 lead into the break. Then, they started the second half strong, with an 8-0 blitz to push their lead firmly into double digits, where it remained for the rest of the game.
Once it got going, Villanova never slowed down. It shot 50% or more overall in both halves and was scorching from long range. The Wildcats buried 13 three-pointers as a team, with five players contributing at least one basket from long range and a quartet of players connecting two or more times from beyond the arc.
On the other side of the court, Delaware tried to catch up with threes, but the ‘Cats clamped them from beyond the arc, limiting them to just 3-of-20 (15.0%) from deep.
“I think we played great team defense, and it’s just going to prepare us for Sunday,” Villanova guard Collin Gillespie said. “We know how great of a team Ohio State is and how dynamic they are offensively and defensively, and how physical they are, so I think tonight prepared us a little bit for that.”
It was a balanced effort for the ‘Cats, with five different players scoring in double figures. Justin Moore led the way with a game-high 21 points. He also had three boards, six assists and a steal. Jermaine Samuels had 15 points, nine rebounds — including seven on the offensive glass — with three assists, a block and a steal. Gillespie added 14 points and four assists. Caleb Daniels finished with 13 points off the bench, while Eric Dixon had 12 points and six rebounds.
“We were just reading their ball screen coverage, and if they were coming to help, see who was helping,” Moore said of what allowed Villanova to unlock its offense. “Once we figured that out, we were able to figure out when we could take our open shots, make the extra pass and find the bigs posting up.”
For Delaware, Jyare Davis paced the Blue Hens with 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting and six rebounds. Andrew Carr made all five of his shot attempts en route to a 13-point outing. Jameer Nelson Jr. was limited to eight points on 3-of-13 shooting. Dylan Painter had six points.
Towards the end of the game, Samuels collided with Villanova assistant coach and former player Dwayne Anderson, when trying to track down a loose ball.
“The ball was going out of bounds, and I was trying to jump out of his way, but he was trying to catch me,” Samuels said. “I guess he moved his head towards my elbow. I was trying to move out of the way, but it was an accident. Guess it shows how much he loves us by trying to catch me, but I’m sorry it happened.”
Wright offered his take on the sideline collision.
“Dwayne Anderson would have been gotten really mad at Jermaine if he didn’t go after that loose ball,” Wright said. “I’d also like to say that Dwayne Anderson has played for us, got hurt worse than that and never even came out of the game. Now, as a coach, he leaves the bench when he gets hit like that. He got it pretty good across the nose. I’m not a doctor, but it doesn’t look good to me.”
Wright also opened up on Longino’s situation. The freshman guard was seen not dressed in uniform and was reported to have a left knee injury. While he didn’t specifically name the injury, his status isn’t looking good.
“I don’t think we’re going to have him Sunday,” Wright said. “We’re going to miss him. Chris Arcidiacono and Bryan Antoine are going to have to step up, and I think they will.”
Next up for the ‘Cats is a second-round matchup with Ohio State, who is led by National Player of the Year candidate E.J. Liddell and former Butler coach Chris Holtmann.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism