Friday night at the brand new PPL Center in Allentown, PA was supposed to be a triumphant return to the Lehigh Valley for senior native Darrun Hilliard, II. But 10 minutes into the game it was clear to all watching that this game wouldn't be an early season warm up and showcase of skills for Hilliard and Co., but rather a gritty, hard fought win on a night when nothing was falling. Lehigh jumped out to an early lead in the first half, which Villanova could not overcome until about 12 minutes into the game. Villanova took a two point lead into halftime leaving much to be desired.
Villanova's game tightened up a little in the second half, stretching the lead into double digits for most of the game save a small comeback mounted by Lehigh with around 5:00 remaining. The 'Cats' lead shrunk to 4 at the 4:20 mark. Although they were embattled in a fierce, inefficient contest for much of the evening, a 19-5 run pushed the Villanova Wildcats over the Lehigh Mountain Hawks by the score of 77-66.
One of the most efficient teams in the country in the 2013-14 season started off the year with a dismal performance, shooting 38.0 percent from the field. Lehigh deserves a lot of credit for the tough, gritty defense they played. They were able to collapse into the paint to suffocate the Wildcats offense and slow their vaunted dribble-drive attack. When the Wildcats would get penetration going, at the Mountain Hawks would answer by collapsing, Villanova would kick the ball out, and shoot a 3. This happened far more than it should have, to the tune of 33 3PT attempts. This may not have been a problem if Villanova could have found a way to make more than 8 of those 33 attempts.
Ryan Arcidiacono was one of four Wildcats in double figures, joining Dylan Ennis, Darrun Hilliard, and JayVaughn Pinkston whom had 16, 19, 10 and 11 points respectively. The quartet was far from efficient from the floor though, combining to make 13 shots on 43 attempts (30.5 FG%).
Hilliard's homecoming was soured by a 4-18 shooting performance. The stars of the game for Villanova were Ryan Arcidiacono, who posted a stat line of 16 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals and Dylan Ennis whose 19 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists led the way for the Wildcats. Daniel Ochefu led the Wildcats on the boards with 9 rebounds. Ochefu's new offensive repertoire showed twice with two nice post moves in the mid-second half, but he seemed hesitant to flex his muscles more underneath.
For Lehigh, Tim Kempton and Austin Price helped keep things tight. Price led the Mountain Hawks with 24 points bolstered by a 4-7 night from behind the arc. For Kempton, a solid 15 point 10 rebound performance was a good way to start a sophomore campaign following a freshman year that saw him win the Patriot League freshman of the year award.
Lehigh bested 'Nova with a 53.1 percent mark on their 49 field goal attempts, and on the 3-point line, where they shot 37.5 percent to the Wildcats' 24.2 percent. The difference in the game appeared to be in the rebounding and turnover department. Villanova won the battle of the boards 40-33. This was most noticeable as while Villanova takes a whole-team offensive rebounding approach, Lehigh seemed content to drop at least two guards back after every shot. This was most evident in two aspects: First, it explains why Lehigh finished the night with only four offensive rebounds, and second, it explains why Villanova was unable to get out in transition as much as they would typically like to do. Villanova's half-court trap was effective as the Mountain Hawks committed 23 turnovers to the Wildcats' 9 and the few transition baskets the Wildcats were able to get came off steals in the half court trap.
One of the more interesting highlights of the night might have also come during halftime. Villanova, who played host for the game despite its neutral-court overtones, displayed a "Pavilion Project" video, with what appeared to be a pretty well-developed plan to overhaul the Wildcats' ski-lodgey on-campus home. While the University has been hesitant to commit to, or at least publicly acknowledge such a plan, it appears that they are firmly moving towards the renovation for which fans have been clamoring. Perhaps this will give fans a bit more incentive to get behind Villanova's recently instituted pledge-per-win program. The BECB Staff will keep readers updated on any developments for the new "Pavilion Project" at Villanova.
Next up for the Wildcats is a 7:00 o'clock game at the Pavilion on Monday, November 17 against Maryland-Eastern Shore.