By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
Villanova 76, Mount St. Mary’s 56 – Box Score
Villanova’s first round game of the NCAA tournament tipped off at about 7:10 on the east coast, but communications must have become muddled in the wake of the snow storm that hit the region, because the Wildcats didn’t really start playing until about a quarter to 8. Villanova started out the game as poorly as you could possibly imagine, going scoreless for the first six minutes of the contest.
The usual studs for the Wildcats were MIA for much of the first half; Josh Hart picked up two early fouls and spent much of the opening frame shouting encouragement from the sidelines, while Kris Jenkins missed all 7 of his first half field goal attempts.
Mount St. Mary’s appeared to grow more confident with every Villanova shot that clanked off the iron, and even after the Wildcats finally got on the board, the Mountaineers were able to maintain the lead until there was less than a minute remaining in the first half.
Fortunately for Jay Wright and company, the 1 vs. 16 matchup provides a wide margin of error for the favored side. A better team would have really seized the opportunity presented by Villanova’s shooting struggles and built a big lead. Mount St. Mary’s simply doesn’t have the sort of playmakers needed to create open looks against a defense as disciplined as that of Villanova. The Mountaineers’ lead never grew larger than eight points.
In the second half, the Wildcats wasted no time putting the first half behind them and extinguishing any hope of the 16th seed making history. After Mount St. Mary’s scored on the opening possession of the half, Villanova went on a 13-0 run to take firm control of the game for good. As the lead grew, the Mountaineers began to press, forcing up bad shots and turning the ball over, which led to easy buckets for the Wildcats. My friends and I joked that we had to shift our concern from whether Villanova would even win (a thought which had never really wavered), to whether it would cover the second half spread (-14, which they covered easily), or even the full game spread (-27, not quite, although it was a sweat for Mount St. Mary’s backers).
Wildcats faithful can thank the often unheralded bench for allowing the team to avoid disaster. Donte DiVincenzo played the game of his life, getting a career-high 37 minutes with Hart in foul trouble. DiVincenzo scored 21 points on 9-15 shooting, and had his first career double-double with 13 rebounds. The only blemishes were two missed breakaway dunks, which I’m sure he’ll be hearing about from his teammates for the rest of his college career. Eric Paschall also chipped in with 10 points in 24 minutes on 4-5 shooting.
Villanova will have to do a much better job Saturday against Wisconsin. They need Kris Jenkins to actually hit some shots; 2-13 from the field and 0-6 from three won’t fly against a good team. They need Josh Hart to stay on the floor and set the tone on both ends, like the 1st-team All-American he is. Luckily, although there are technically no warm-up games in March Madness, a 1 vs. 16 game is as close as you’re going to find.
Operation Repeat: 1 win down, 5 to go.