Villanova Opens Neptune Era With 81-68 Win Over La Salle


Graydon Paul/Villanovan Photography

Caleb Daniels went 6-of-7 from beyond the arc, and finished with 24 points.

Colin Beazley, Co-Editor-in-Chief

While the head coach on the sidelines was different, not much else has changed for Villanova. 

The effort was the same. The style was the same. The free-throw shooting was the same, as the Wildcats drained all but one of their attempts. In the end, even the result was the same, as the Kyle Neptune era got off to a roaring start with a 81-68 Big 5 win over La Salle.

“I was really proud of our team,” Neptune said. “We’re trying to figure it out also with a bunch of new guys, guys hurt. To our guys credit, I thought by the end, we were playing Villanova basketball.”

Neptune downplayed his debut, saying he had no nerves going in.

“I get all the hype,” Neptune said. “… I think everyone here just has a unique resolve. All we think about playing and coaching for each other and that’s all we truly think about. So when you do that, and when you think that way, there’s nothing to be nervous about.”

Redshirt junior forward Eric Dixon and graduate guard Caleb Daniels were the stars on the court, combining for 44 points. Despite playing with a face mask after breaking his nose during Fall practice, Daniels made his first five three-point attempts, ending the day 6-of-7.

Fellow starters Brandon Slater and Jordan Longino joined Daniels and Dixon in double digits, adding 12 points apiece.

With expected starters Justin Moore (Achilles) and Cam Whitmore (wrist) out with injuries, Villanova got its rotation involved early and often. Neptune played eight players for ten minutes or more, giving three players debuts. True freshman Mark Armstrong was the first player off the bench for Villanova, subbing in before the first timeout. Fellow freshman Brendan Hausen and redshirt freshman Angelo Brizzi also played meaningful minutes.

“I think those guys all did a great job,” Neptune said. “They look like they played confident. I’ll go back and watch that but we felt confident with them out there. … They all look like they’ve been out there for a while.”

The Wildcats opened an early lead with a 10-0 run in the first ten minutes of the game, and the lead was never cut to below 10. However, Villanova never fully pulled away. Throughout much of the second half, La Salle threatened to make the game close, yet the Wildcats kept the Explorers at bay.

“It’s a Big 5 game,” Neptune said. “Any team, you know they’re gonna make runs at you. So it’s just a part of the game. We didn’t feel like the game was over. We knew that they were gonna play till the end.”

Senior guard Josh Nickelberry led the Explorers with 22 points. Nickelberry played against Villanova last season and said that despite the new head coach, this year’s squad looked very similar to the team he played last year.

“They have the same structure, same plays,” Nickelberry said. “They basically played the same game because Neptune was there before he went to Fordham. So he came in and had the same principles as Coach Jay Wright.” 

Villanova continues its Big 5 campaign on Friday, traveling into Philadelphia to take on Temple at the Liacouras Center. Temple opened its season with an overtime loss against Wagner.