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Villanova Tops American, 90-63, in Season Opener

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Ryan Sarbello/Villanovan Photography
Graduate forward Tyler Burton tied Erix Dixon as the leading scorer with 15 points and led the team with seven rebounds.

On Monday, Nov. 6, Villanova opened up its 2023-24 season with a win over American in the Finneran Pavilion. In the 90-63 victory, senior forward Eric Dixon had his usual standout performance, scoring 15 points and grabbing six rebounds.  

“I was really proud of our guys’ effort tonight,” head coach Kyle Neptune said. “We had a lot of guys contribute, which I thought was a positive for us. […] Our goal coming into this game was to play harder than American and… I think our guys did a good job.” 

For Villanova, this season will be highlighted by Neptune’s success in the transfer portal during the off-season. Neptune put those new faces to use in the home opener.  

Graduate forward Tyler Burton made his way into the Wildcat starting lineup and lived up to expectations in his Villanova debut. The former Richmond Spider tied Dixon as the Wildcats’ leading scorer with 15 points, and led the team with seven rebounds. 

“It’s just great comfort to go in there and play as hard as you possibly can,” Burton said. “The points will come… I think the great comfort is having guys playing hard knowing that you can play hard.” 

Along with Burton in the starting five was sophomore Mark Armstrong, graduate student Justin Moore, Dixon, and senior guard TJ Bamba, who came from Washington State. In the win, Bamba added 13 points, five rebounds, and three assists. 

“[With] these new guys… I can 100% say I think we knocked it out of the park 100% just in terms of character,” Neptune said. “With the new guys coming in, I think from day one… our team just embraced each other and we’re all on the same page.” 

The starting five weren’t the only ones who chipped in for the win. Off the bench were the other two new faces, graduate guard Hakim Hart and senior forward Lance Ware. Hart added 11 points and six rebounds, while Ware contributed two points of his own.  

Junior guard Jordan Longino also had some contributions off the bench, adding nine points and leading the team with four assists. Sophomore guard Brendan Hausen chipped in with six points.

However, despite some notable performances, Villanova’s 27-point victory margin hardly reflected what happened on the court in the first 20 minutes. 

The ‘Cats struggled in the first half, going 2-10 from behind the arc and giving up 12 points in second chances to the Eagles. 

“You’re gonna have games where you’re not making shots,” Neptune said. “That’s just gonna happen. Good teams can lock in and defend at a high level, no matter if they’re making shots.” 

After brushing off the cobwebs, Villanova started to settle in to play, sinking those shots and remaining strong defensively.  

Moore opened up scoring in the second half with a jumper, followed by a dunk from Burton that forced American’s first time head coach Duane Simpkins to call a timeout. 

From there, it was smooth sailing for the ‘Cats. 

As if the 15-4 run from Villanova in the first five minutes of the half wasn’t enough, the Wildcats made sure to put on a show of sheer effort to get a packed Finn crowd into the game. 

With just over ten minutes remaining, the Wildcats nearly forced a turnover in the backcourt after Bamba, Burton, and junior forward Nnanna Njoku all dove for a loose ball. After eventually losing the ball, Dixon blocked an American layup, allowing for a quick Wildcat transition where Burton drilled a three and the Finn erupted. 

“That’s just Villanova basketball,” Burton said. “We talk about it everyday, sacrificing yourself for the team and… earning your honor to work with your teammates.” 

With the fans involved and Villanova finding comfort on the offensive end, it was just a matter of running out the clock for the Wildcats to secure their first win of the 2023-24 season. 

Villanova ended the game scoring 64 of its 90 points from inside in the paint to accumulate for 90 points, the highest scoring game in Neptune’s time as head coach. The Wildcats also stayed consistent from the foul line with an 84.2% free-throw percentage. 

“That’s great. It’s good,” Neptune said. “We’re not going to get any points back, but I was even more proud of us defensively…I think that’s where we’re gonna really have to lock in and continue to get better [this season].” 

Looking ahead, the Wildcats will take on Le Moyne for their second home game of the season on Friday, Nov. 10. The Dolphins will have their season opener on Tuesday, Nov. 7 against Georgetown.

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Brooke Ackerman, Associate Editor-in-Chief
Brooke Ackerman is serving as The Villanovan’s Associate Editor-in-Chief in 2024. A sophomore majoring in Communications and Journalism, Brooke has been involved in The Villanovan since her first semester at in college. Formerly, she served as the Co-Sports Editor where she covered the Women’s 2023 NCAA run to the Sweet 16. Brooke is also a sports intern for The Philadelphia Inquirer where she pursues her passion for sports journalism.
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