Strong second half carries No. 1 Villanova past American, 90-48



David Jarman

Despite a slow start, the Wildcats came out strong in the second half in their 42-point win over American University yesterday. Pre-Season All American Josh Hart led all players with 20 points as the Wildcats finish off their non-conference schedule.

We had a great practice yesterday and had good preparation today,” Head Coach Jay Wright said. “We weren’t great, but American was good early. I think we have the ability to stick with it, not panic. And then we got used to their style and played great after that.”

Villanova came out sluggish in their first game back from final exams. The Wildcats turned the ball over eight times in the first half when they usually average 10 turnovers a game. Josh Hart was also in foul trouble, picking up his second at the nine-minute mark.

Kris Jenkins and Jalen Brunson were both rusty in the first half, combining for four points and shooting 2-9 from the field (0-4 from the three point arc). American was able to keep themselves in the game by shooting 48% from the field, led by sophomore guard Delante Jones with 12 points. The Eagles came out on all cylinders, playing tough defense and scoring lay-ups on back-door cuts.  

Wright made American uncomfortable in the second half with his full court 1-2-2 press and frustrated them in the half court with a terrorizing, pressure-filled 2-3 zone. American was not able to find their rhythm, as they had two 30-second shot clock violations.

While they were successful shooting the ball in the first half, American had a field goal percentage of 28.6% in the second half, only making eight of 28 shots in the second half. The defensive pressure Villanova put on the Eagles transitioned into their offensive play, as Hart was able to attack the lane. Brunson, picked up 12 of his 14 total points in the second half, helping the team to a 22-5 run that lasted just over five minutes.

It all came down to points in the paint. Villanova was the bigger team, outscoring American 40-16 in the paint, including a 20-6 margin in the second half. The Wildcats also outscored the Eagles in fast break points 20-0.     

“We’re pleased with the way we played so far,” Hart said. “We feel like we are progressing and feel like we are getting better day by day.”  

While Hart and the rest of the starters are continuing to play well, part of the Wildcats’ success is due to their bench play. Red-shirt freshman Donte DiVincenzo is taking every advantage of his opportunity for playing time while Phil Booth is nursing his knee injury. The Delaware native finished with 12 points, five rebounds, and had an acrobatic block in the second-half.

Another key bench player is red-shirt sophomore Eric Paschall. The Fordham transfer scored 15 points and was able to keep the scoring up in the first half when Jenkins and Brunson were struggling.  Paschall has shown that he is able to adjust to playing more minutes for the Wildcats this season.

“Just playing with these guys makes it a lot easier,” Paschall said. “Just knowing that they have my back and I have theirs. Playing Villanova basketball for 40 minutes is what I want to do.”  

As for American, freshman point guard Sa’eed Nelson scored 11 points. The former Saint Augustine Prep star leads American in scoring, averaging 16.8 points per game, and was able to display his talents at the Pavilion for many of his former coaches, teachers, and classmates.

“I knew a lot of people were coming [to see me],” Nelson said. “Villanova is near my hometown, so there’s a connection to the Prep. It was an exciting atmosphere. I was glad I was able to play them, especially while they are the number one team in the country.”

Wright was impressed by Nelson.

“We know what a good player he is, we watched him in high school,” he said. “He’s tough, he’s going to be a really good player”.  

The Wildcats have three days off before they start preparing for the next part of their season. Villanova’s Big East opener on Wednesday is an early 6:30pm tip-off at home against the DePaul Demon Deacons.