Wildcats season opener ends in victory against Columbia


Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Villanova’s Mikal Bridges (25) goes up for a shot between Columbia’s Rodney Hunter (4) and Gabe Stefanini (15) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, in Philadelphia.

Kevin Gamgort

On a brisk Friday evening, the men’s basketball team opened up their season against Columbia. It was a very impressive turnout for the Wildcat faithful, as many alumni and students filled the parking lot of the Wells Fargo Center for tailgating festivities prior to entering the arena for the 75-60 Wildcat win.

​With the start of the new season, and a Top Ten National Ranking entering the season, championship aspirations are in reach for the Wildcats. This game also showcased the debut of incoming freshmen Collin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree. Nova Nation was in for an exciting night to kick off its season. 

​In the first half, Jalen Brunson got the team off to a strong start by knocking down a three pointer on his first shot attempt of the season. The Wildcats were off to a 7-0 start early in the first. However, after a 9-2 run by Columbia, the game was tied up at nine. Gillespie broke the tie by hitting the first shot of his career, a three pointer. However, Columbia answered back quickly with a three of their own. The Wildcats and Columbia continued to trade buckets back and forth in a tight contest, until the Wildcats opened up a significant lead. The Wildcats entered the break with a 32-23 lead and an enormous block from Mikal Bridges as the clock expired. At the half, Brunson led the team in scoring with nine points, followed by Gillespie and Eric Paschall who both notched six. Among Paschall’s six points included a few ferocious slam dunks, which sent the crowd into a frenzy.  

​The Wildcats started with the ball in the second half, looking forward to expanding upon their lead and the momentum they built going into the half. Phil Booth hit a three pointer on the first shot of the second half. The Wildcats continued to build upon this momentum and held a 59-40 lead with under ten minutes left in the game. The lead grew further because of the stellar play of Spellman, who flashed his potential in the second half. The crowd was then stunned when Bridges threw down a one-handed posterizing dunk to give his team a 63-42 lead. The Wildcats did not slow down from that point as they rolled to a 75-60 victory. 

​Paschall led the team in points with 15 while also adding 9 rebounds. Brunson finished with 14 points and Donte DiVincenzo tacked on 13 to round out the scoring leaders. In his debut, Spellman recorded a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds. This was a very impressive performance from the redshirt freshman Spellman, who was ineligible last season. This performance did not go unnoticed by head coach Jay Wright, who had high praise for his play.

​“I liked that he rebounded the ball, for a big guy that’s the most difficult offense to guard and he did it in his first game,” Wright said. “Decision making, communicating defensively, he’ll get better he’s just got to play, he hasn’t played a game in two years.”

​With the incoming class and the return of Booth and Spellman, the Wildcats have added much needed depth that they lacked last season. In tonight’s contest, the Wildcats did not stray away from giving minutes to their young players. 

​“We’ve got to get those young guys experience, it might look bad early, it might hurt us early, but there is potential at the end to be a good team,” Wright said. 

​After starting off the season 1-0, the Wildcats are back in action this Tuesday against Nicholls at the Wells Fargo Center.