VILLANOVA, PA. 11/8/2013 – The Villanova Wildcats knew their season opener would be a fight when playing a team that executes with the precision that the Lafayette Leopards. Villanova did have the advantage of size and strength. Eventually, it wore down Lafayette and Villanova broke away late to earn a 75 – 59 opening win at the Pavilion.
“We had more and bigger athletes,” Villanova Coach Jay Wright said. “That will wear you down.”
“After a game like that is over and you win, that’s a great game to start with. You really get tested. We were not surprised at all. That (Lafayette) is a really good team. It was a good challenge for us. That team is tough to play. I was proud of our guys staying with it defensively sown the stretch, getting stops, and playing with discipline.”
“I thought we got worn down,” said Lafayette Coach and Villanova alum Fran O’Hanlon. “In the second half they hurt us on the boards. We were in foul trouble as well. At the end they got accustomed to our zone, figured it out and went at us. That put them on the foul line a lot too.”
The Blue and White won the stats that point to size and strength. Villanova had a 28 – 12 edge in points in the paint, and outrebounded Lafayette 40 – 32 and had 6 more offensive rebounds. The Wildcats getting inside went to the foul line 38 times compared to the jump shooting Leopards who had 15 foul shots. Junior forward JayVaughn Pinkston scored 10 of his 22 points at the foul line.
“The coaches told me to keep playing defense and rebound,” said Pinkston. “I stuck with it and I was in the right spot at the right time.”
Senior guard James Bell scored a game-high 24 points and added 9 rebounds. Bell was 7 of 8 from the free throw line. Sophomore forward Daniel Ochefu had a game-high 11 rebounds and 3 blocked shots.
“I got open shots and I made them,” said Bell. “My teammates put me in good positions and I was just making shots.”
The defense of Villanova and the pressure finally got to Lafayette who turned the ball over 16 times. That gave Villanova an 18 – 8 advantage in points off turnovers.
The Leopards stayed with the Wildcats most of the game trailing 29 – 27 at halftime. Villanova had inside presence, but shot the ball from the outside taking 18 of their 30 shots in the half from outside the arc. Bell had 15 of his points in the opening 20 minutes. Villanova was not shooting the ball particularly well. The Wildcats wanted to get the ball inside but did not until the second half. For the game the hosts made 21 – 54 (38.9%) and were 5 of 30 from distance. Lafayette finally broke through to get a lead of 6 points, 38 – 32, with 16:33 to play in the second half. The teams battled as the clock would down. Villanova responded to take a lead but a three-pointer by Lafayette guard Seth Hinrichs tied the game at 47 with 9:10 to play. The score stayed level until the 7:33 mark when James Bell hit a three-ball to give the Wildcats a lead they would never relinquish.
“”It was a combination if us and Nova,” Hinrichs said in explaining why Villanova pulled ahead. “They stepped up their defense, and stopped our penetration. They really attacked our zone and got easy buckets on us.”
Leading by two-points with 7 minutes on the clock, a 17 – 7 run by Villanova over five and a half minutes put the game firmly onto the win column.
“I never thought there was a momentum switch,” Wright said. “I felt it was more wearing down. They’re a tough team to play behind against. About the two-minute mark we got it to 7, then I felt we only have two-minutes to take away the threes.”
Junior guard Darrun Hilliard scored 13 points for Villanova. He added a team-high 7 assists and pulled down 5 rebounds. For Lafayette Hinrichs led the team with 15 points and in rebounds with 6. Guard Joey Ptasinski added 13 and guard Scott Bryce contributed 11 points. As a team the Leopards shot 20 – 51 (39.2%) and made 11 of 24 three-pointers.
Villanova gets ready for game number two on November 13 at home against Mount St. Mary’s. The big gain was they got the win in a game they needed to fight through and keep their focus. And having experience helps.
“We got a year under our belt,” Bell said. “We’re comfortable. We just know what to do. We’re not always looking to Coach. We know how to fight in situations like that.”
Written By: Glenn Papazian