Men’s basketball starts 2-0 after thumping Nebraska



Frank Scicchitano

Just when it looked like Nebraska was going to give Villanova a test in its second game of the season, the Wildcats’ offense exploded for 22 unanswered points in a span of nearly six minutes as the student section in the Pavilion let out a collective exhale in relief.

’Nova closed out the first half on a 22-2 run to build a 38-25 lead at halftime and rode that momentum all the way to a 87-63 blowout victory on Tuesday night.

In the middle of the first half, Nebraska put together a 12-2 run that gave them a 23-16 lead with 7:41 remaining before halftime. The Cornhuskers were forcing Villanova to make mistakes, getting good position under the rim, and finishing with strong layups.

“That team is definitely good enough to beat us if we’re not playing well,” Head Coach Jay Wright said following the game. “We just weren’t making shots [and] they were playing good defense – they’re a good defensive team.”

After a timeout, senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono hit a 3-pointer off the dribble to cut into the lead and immediately made a defensive play to force a jump ball and regain possession for the Wildcats. With the help of a screen from junior forward Kris Jenkins, junior forward Josh Hart hit a triple to make it a one-point game. Minutes later, senior forward Daniel Ochefu’s layup would give the Wildcats a lead that they would not relinquish for the remainder of the game.

“Arch and myself have seen that for all four years since we’ve been here,” Ochefu said of his team’s ability to adjust and take control of the game. “We’ve been in some great comeback games and we know it’s just our attitude that helps us do things like that.”

Arcidiacono, Hart and Ochefu were the catalysts of Villanova’s offensive revival in the first half. The trio combined for 18 of the 22 points and was helped by eight Nebraska turnovers during the run.

“We really do have to rely on those three,” Wright said about the trio that sprung Villanova’s offense in the first half. “I think they’re going to bring the other guys along. That’s why I’m on [Josh] about being a leader and demanding it of everybody else. Those three are really important to us that way.”

Hart was sharp from everywhere on the floor and scored a team- and game-high 19 points. He posted an efficient 8-for-14 mark from the field that included three 3-pointers in seven attempts and added five rebounds and four steals to his well-rounded box score. 

Ochefu’s offense was also on display as he debuted the 18-foot baseline jumper that Villanova forwards have historically developed during their senior year. The big man recorded his second straight double-double by shooting 6-of-10 from the field and finishing with 17 points and 10 rebounds.

“When teams play us, they know they have to guard the three and guard the pick and roll,” Wright explained. “But when they know they have to deal with a big guy inside, that’s another threat. 

“It is really valuable to have that and the best thing about it is Daniel passes the ball [from the paint] and you’re not worried about going in there and no one else getting it – he’s a great passer and very unselfish player in the post.”

Half of Ochefu’s rebounds were on the offensive end of the floor to keep Villanova’s possessions alive and he added three blocks in another stout defensive performance.

The third member of Villanova’s triple threat on Tuesday, Arcidiacono, netted 50 percent of his field goal attempts (6-of-12) on his way to 15 points. He had a pair of 3-pointers in the first half and four assists that helped Villanova’s offense find a rhythm.

Sophomore guard Phil Booth, who came off the bench, was the fourth and final Wildcat to reach double-figure scoring. In the second half, Booth scored nine of his 11 points and played well in relief of Arcidiacono.

Nebraska managed to get off to a hot start offensively, but was hurt by 22 total turnovers that led to 33 points for Villanova. The Huskers managed to win the rebound battle, but Villanova’s 49 percent field goal shooting allowed the ’Cats to break away and cruise to the victory.

Junior guard Andrew White III was Nebraska’s leading scorer with 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting. He was 3-of-5 from 3-point range and was second on the team with six rebounds.  

White spent two seasons at Kansas before transferring to Nebraska and, at 6-foot-7, is often a mismatch at the guard position. He helped Nebraska build its early lead, but was limited by ’Nova’s defense for the remainder of the game. 

Villanova has now won 28 consecutive games in the Pavilion with its last loss occurring on Feb. 3, 2013 to Providence. The Wildcats will be looking for their 29th and 30th straight victories this weekend when they host East Tennessee State tomorrow night at 7 p.m. and Akron on Sunday afternoon at 4:30 p.m.