And We’re Back



Meaghan Bedigian

Kaitlin O’Sullivan/The Villanovan

“And we’re back,” Kris Jenkins said with a grin walking into the press room after Villanova’s 88-48 win over Lafayette last Friday at the Pavilion. Jenkins made Villanova fans nostalgic with 16 points, opening the game with a quick jumper in the first 1:04 of play.

It was clear Mikal Bridges practiced his shot this summer, adding 16 points of his own and eight rebounds to the mix. Jalen Brunson was the leading scorer of the game with 17 points, and along with Darryl Reynolds, Eric Paschall and Donte DiVincenzo, the Wildcats were a force to be reckoned with on defense with seven rebounds each.

It was also clear that Lafayette was playing a national championship-winning team in the first half, falling behind 49-17 and clocking in at a total of 12 airballs throughout the game. 

“We were playing a different animal tonight,” Lafayette coach Fran O’Hanlon said.

The Leopards struggled to catch a rhythm throughout the 40 minutes of play, resulting in frantic plays and forced shots. They picked their game up in the second half and trailed ‘Nova by only five points, finally making the Wildcats play some defense and catching them off guard.

“Playing a game is the best thing we can do to get over last season,” Jay Wright said, acknowledging the dangers of the dreaded championship hangover.

This definitive win gave the No. 3 ranked Wildcats the edge they needed to overcome No. 15 ranked Purdue (1-1), who they bested 79-76 on Monday in front of almost 15,000 people at Mackey Arena improving their record to 2-0.

“This is the first time we’ve ever been here and this is a really cool college basketball venue,” Wright said. “Purdue is going to have a great year. That’s a good basketball team. That’s a good road win for us.”

Hart scored a game-high 24 points throughout his 37 minutes of play, while timely free throw shooting by Bridges and Brunson helped offset Paschall and Reynolds’ foul trouble. Before heading to the bench, Reynolds scored 12 points and eight rebounds, while Paschall added 11 points. Purdue’s massive 7’2”, 290-pound center Isaac Haas led the Boilermakers with 22 points, followed by 6’9”, 250-pound Caleb Swanigan with 20 points.

“It’s November—we’ve got to get a lot better,” Wright noted. “We really had trouble stopping them on the interior. You just can’t simulate that kind of size and skill in practice.”

It appeared the Wildcats were set to take a lead into the intermission before P.J. Thompson banked a half-court buzzer beater, tying the game up at 39-39. Villanova opened the second half by scoring 14 of the first 20 points.

Jenkins and Hart helped ignite the 14-6 spurt, and a Paschall corner 3-pointer off an assist from Brunson was followed by a Hart basket on a fast break and subsequent free throw to open up a 56-45 lead with 15:52 to play in the second half. 

“[Paschall]’s going to be a big part of what we do,” Wright said. “It’s his first year playing with us, and he’s got to learn the attention to detail, but the more minutes we can get him, the better. He brings a lot of natural talent. As we talked about our rebounding, he’s really going to give us some help out front on the glass. I think he can do it. He has a lot of room for improvement, but he’ll work at it. He’s a real coach-able guy.”

The Boilermakers managed to close the gap to one point on four separate occasions, but Wildcat defense came through in the end.

“The off-season and summer were about getting prepared and trying to get back to the little things,” Bridges said. “Spain helped us big time. In the summer we played more defense than we usually do, just to get ready for the season now.”

Wright has dubbed Bridges his sixth man, counting on him to play starter minutes so far this season.

“Kris and Josh did it. Kyle Lowry did it,” Wright said. “We have had a lot of guys in that position and they have had a lot of success. Mikal has watched it all even before he came here and he’s really smart. He’s really humble. I need to look at minutes, but he’s going to be in the game a lot. When the game is on the line, as well.”

Purdue’s size and interior strength began to assert itself midway through the period. Paschall picked up his fourth foul—he was whistled for three in the first half—not long after Reynolds went to the bench with three fouls. Swanigan and Haas helped carry Purdue back to within 58-57 after a Haas dunk as the clock ticked under 12 minutes in the second half.

The Wildcats’ made just enough offensive plays in the final minutes to emerge with the victory.

“We basically had to outscore them,” Wright said. “But this was a great experience for us. To get Donte DiVincenzo and Eric Paschall into those types of situations in this kind of environment is invaluable.”

Check out for a recap of today’s Gildan Charlston Classic game against Western Michigan. The Wildcats play their second game of the tournament tomorrow.