Wildcats blow out Nicholls State in triple-digit fashion


Steven M. Falk/The Philadelphia Inquirer

Mikal Bridges tries to block Nicholls State’s Roddy Peters during the first half of Tuesday’s game at Wells Fargo Center.

Mike Keeley

In an early-evening weekday contest against a little-known opponent seemingly designed to discourage attendance, the Wildcats thoroughly rewarded their fans that rushed to Wells Fargo Center from work and classes, winning in style against Nicholls State, 113-77. This was the team’s first time with six players scoring in double digits, scoring 100 points and winning by 30 points since March 9, 2017 against St. John’s in the Big East Tournament. The Wildcats also broke a University men’s basketball record with 13 blocks, breaking a record of 12 previously set four times (Georgetown ’88, BC ’94, WVU ’97 and Delaware ’00).

After debuts spent mostly shaking off the rust and acquainting themselves with the college game, freshman forwards Jermaine Samuels and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree got off the mark scoring, finishing with eight and three points, respectively.

“Dhamir is going to be important for us,” Head Coach Jay Wright said. “It was really good for Jermaine. He’s a guy in his position that could really help us out if we can get him comfortable.”

Tuesday night, however, it was the Wildcats’ veteran players who led the team to victory with Wright choosing to start the same lineup as he did on Friday against Columbia. Only one freshman, last week’s Big East freshman of the week, Omari Spellman was included in the lineup. This was apparent early as redshirt junior wing Mikal Bridges, who led the Wildcats in scoring with 23, caught the tip and rushed through the Colonel defense for the opening basket.

“That’s just something I don’t think about,” Bridges said about his career-best scoring night. “I just go out there and try to play as hard as I can.”

The Colonels kept it close early in the first half as the Wildcats struggled again to find their shooting stroke, keeping within four points with 16:02 remaining in the half. After sitting for a couple minutes, Bridges entered back into the game for fellow junior guard Phil Booth and proved vital to helping the Wildcats open up a double-digit lead they would not relinquish for the remainder of the game knocking down consecutive spot-up triples. He continued to enforce his will on the game after a timeout, flushing an emphatic dunk followed by a block on the other end. That sequence was indicative of the Wildcats’ first half domination in the paint, as they went into the break with 28 points in the paint and eight blocks, including Cosby-Roundtree’s first collegiate points on an emphatic dunk.

One necessary area of defensive improvement for the Wildcats going into the second half was perimeter defense. Although they only allowed 3-10 from behind the arc to the Colonels, they gave up a few other open looks that a stronger opponent might knock down in the future. Wright does not think his team’s defensive play is at the level he wants it.

“It was more athleticism tonight than technique,” Wright said.

Despite Wright’s postgame worries, however, his squad went into the break with a 54-30 lead.

The game’s second act opened with a barrage of threes by both teams at the start of the half, as Brunson, Gillespie, Bridges and Booth each found pay dirt from deep within the first four minutes, while junior guard Zaquavian Smith, who led his team in scoring with 25 points, returned the favor for the Colonels with three triples of his own. This sequence was the first time that the shaky perimeter defense came back to bite the Wildcats, however the margin at this point in the contest was such that it did not much matter.

Despite a stat sheet stuffing first half in which he had four points and three rebounds, assists and blocks each, Spellman was stuck on the bench for a significant portion of the second half due to picking up his third and fourth personal fouls in the opening few minutes. This, however, freed up minutes for fellow freshman Samuels to show what he can do for this Wildcats squad.

Along with scoring his first points for the Wildcats on a three in his increased second half minutes, he showed his all-around game through his smart passing on two assists and his athleticism on an emphatic block midway through the half. With the game well and truly wrapped up in the final two minutes, the new bench mob made their debut: junior guard Peyton Heck, senior guard Tom Leibig, sophomore forward Tim Delaney, senior guard Matt Kennedy and graduate guard Denny Grace.

This Friday night at 8 p.m., the Wildcats leave Wells Fargo Center for the PPL Center in Allentown, Pa. looking to continue their undefeated start to the season against a Lafayette squad seeking revenge after an 88-48 loss a year ago.