Villanova returned to the Pavilion for its home opener Friday night against Drexel and pulled away in the second half to topple the Dragons, 64-41.
The inexperience of the team together as a unit with so many newcomers was clearly visible during ‘Nova’s 73-61 loss to Marquette, but as the game progressed so did the team’s confidence.
The contest was evenly matched in the first minutes of play, but the ‘Cats quickly got into the groove and never looked back.
“We were anxious to get the win since we lost to Marquette, but we came out in the second half and really concentrated once we settled in,” freshman Curtis Sumpter said.
Classmate Jason Fraser was powerful under the boards from his entrance off the bench, grabbing six, three on each side of the court in the first. Allan Ray led the ‘Cats in scoring, shooting three from downtown, while senior Ricky Wright brought back his game and reached up for eight boards after fouling out with only five rebounds and 11 minutes left in the loss to the Golden Eagles a week ago.
Drexel played largely a perimeter game; however, big man Robert Battle responded to ‘Nova’s attack, scoring 10 points. Unfortunately for the Dragons, he was unable to garner much help from his team. Going into the half, the ‘Cats bested the Dragons in field goal accuracy, 41.4 percent to 29 percent.
The second half did not bring much luck on the shooting end for Drexel, while ‘Nova’s freshmen kicked it into gear. The ‘Cats were able to hold the Dragons to a low 25 percent mark from the field for the game while shooting 45.8 percent on their own end.
Of Villanova’s 33 second half points, only five did not come from the four freshmen, with Ray leading the pack for a game high 15, while Randy Foye contributed 13. Fairly dormant in the first 20 minutes, Sumpter came alive in the second, making his presence known in the interior and leaving the game with nine points and five boards.
The freshmen were able to take the shots largely due to Wright’s work in the paint, as he was effective in feeding the ball out to the newcomers.
“When they doubled down on [Wright] he kicked the ball out and got shots for his teammates,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said.
The 16 rebounds mark a career high for the senior Wright, who also scored six points.
Taking after his captain’s example, Fraser stepped up his first half performance under the boards, leaving with nine rebounds and six points to go along with five crowd-pleasing blocks. His control of the ball in the air was impressive, with his persistent touch allowing him to gain possession up high.
Although the ‘Cats ended the night with 18 turnovers, coach Wright was pleased with the mental effort of the men to pass first and take the second shot, something they did not do at the Garden.
“Against Marquette we took the first shot a lot,” Wright said. “Today the turnovers were the effect a lot of times of making the extra pass.”
Despite the fact that they slowed the game down, the ‘Cats were able to get out and run with the ball several times.
“Early on this season, our best offense has been off break, and I like that,” Wright commented.
The game ultimately came down to Drexel’s inability to score in the second half, shooting only 20 percent in the final segment. Combined with ‘Nova’s tough defense, Drexel did not make a field goal in the final six minutes of the contest.
“When you can’t make shots it kills you,” Drexel head coach Bruiser Flint said. “We just didn’t knock them down.”