As college basketball inched its way back to existence for a new season so did the hopes of the Villanova Wildcats. In their first outing, Nova' already found themselves in a familiar position: in a jam, with time ticking.
Lafayette was sinking all of their shots from deep. Five minutes into the second half, they were shooting 75 percent from the beyond the arc. The club opened with a 9-3 run in the early minutes of the half and the Pavilion grew ominously quiet. The student section started losing hope. The Leopards began smirking through their maroon sashes.
But somehow, the Pavilion responded and found a way to squeeze out a little more of it's magic. The Wildcats rushed back and closed the gap within two points and their players started rallying together.
Darrun Hilliard ripped a rebound from Dan Trist and threw an arching lob sixty feet down court to James Bell, but it was two feet too far. Bell tipped the rock as he fell out of bounds to a streaking JayVaughn Pinkston for a layup to tie the game for the first time in the second half with 12:34 left to play.
And the Wildcats didn't stop surging. After a close game, the ‘Cats went on a 13-3 run to seal the deal, defeating Lafayette 75-59 at a packed house in Radnor, PA. Bell paced the Wildcats with 24 points and nine boards. Pinkston added 22 points, going 10-for-14 from the charity stripe.
Head Coach Jay Wright took the win with a hearty chuckle. He had no intentions of seeing the Leopards again.
"I will go no where near that place or that team for the next two years," said Wright, followed by a boisterous back-and-forth with some of the reporters.
"That's going to be a really good team this year...I think Fran O'Hanlon is one of the best coaches in college basketball...it was a good challenge for us, those teams are tough to play and I'm proud of our guys staying disciplined defensively down the stretch to make some stops."
Villanova's offense struggled in the first half shooting 33.3 percent from the field and an abysmal 16.7 percent from the perimeter. Without the assistance of sophomore stud Ryan Arcidiacono, Pinkston filled his offensive role immediately in the second half.
Pinkston was the only Wildcat to shoot over 50 percent from the floor (6-for-10 shooting) and consistently split the Leopards' three-fourth court press and found holes in their 2-3 zone. The junior forward also excelled on the interior defensively, holding Lafayette to 9-for-25 shooting in the second half.
Again, Wright's boisterous behavior influenced some on-court decision-making.
"Coach just told me to keep playing defense and rebound and I stuck with it and I was in the right spot at the right time," the 6-foot-7, 240-pounder from Brooklyn, NY, said.
But Wright decided to chime in: "I told you to post up in the second half, too. You did a good job of that...I'll answer yes for him. He asserted himself in the second half."
Pinkston could only agree.
"You did tell me that." He grinned.
For Lafayette, junior guard Seth Hinrichs finished with team-high 15 points and six rebounds. Sophomore guard Scott Bryce added 13 points and shot 3-for-5 from the perimeter. Freshman guard Nick Linder also dished seven assist and netted eight points.
But the Wildcats proved to be too much for one of the Patriot League's preseason favorites. Pinkston and Bell paraded into the post game press conference elated, arguing over stats.
Pinkston put it the simplest and set the tone for the rest of the season, when Villanova is under pressure, don't turn off the televisions. They know how to play under pressure.
"We know in the situations what to do, we are not always looking to coach [for the answers on court]," Pinkston said. "We know how to fight in situations like that and we know what we can control and we will play our hardest and we hope that's good enough."
- Arcidiacono went 1-for-7 from the field and didn't net a single shot from behind the arc. He also had four turnovers. Coach Wright didn't know whether he was healthy or not. "I think he was healthy...but he hasn't played since last week."
- Josh Hart was impressive in his first outing as a Wildcat. He scored four points but played with the most intensity on the floor for forty minutes. He switched his number in the second half because of a bloody nose.
- When asked how his team defended the three-ball in the post game presser, all Coach Wright could do was shake his head
- 2014 Commit Mikal Bridges was present for the home game against Lafayette. He sat with 2015 prospect Donte Divincenzo who took a visit to ‘Nova today.
- Coach Fran O'Hanlon said the gameplan was to focus on Arcidiacono and Hilliard. But saw something in Hilliard. "defensively there was a focus on Arcidiacono and Hilliard. Darrun has improved a lot since I've seen him in H.S"