Instant Replay: Villanova 75, Lafayette 59

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Instant Replay: Villanova 75, Lafayette 59

BOX SCORE

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- For the first six minutes, James Bell kept pace with Lafayette on his own.

Bell scored Villanova’s first 13 points, including an electrifying one-handed throw-down off of an alley-oop from Darrun Hilliard in the Wildcats' 75-59 victory over the Leopards.

Bell would score only 11 points the rest of the game after that initial spurt on a night when Villanova had difficulty making much of anything. Villanova (1-0) finished the game shooting just 38.9 percent from the field, going 5 for 30 from three in the process.

After hanging tight with the Wildcats in the first half, the Leopards (0-1) jumped out to a six-point lead on the back of three shots from downtown midway through the second half.

The Wildcats ultimately relied on most of its major contributors -- Bell, Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston -- to lead a comeback in the second half.

Ryan Arcidiacono didn’t make a basket until 1:49 remaining in the contest, when he finished a tough drive despite getting fouled.

Turning point
With the contest tied at 47, the Wildcats proceeded to score 11 of the next 15 points to open up their largest lead of the game, one they would keep for good.

The run featured threes from Bell and Hilliard, while Pinkston worked hard to get to the hole.

Leaders
Bell kept the Wildcats in it early, and his three-pointer with less than 10 minutes to go broke that 47-47 tie.

Despite not shooting particularly well, Bell finished the game with 24 points, going 7 for 16 from the field.

Key stat
While the Wildcats worked their way back for the win, Villanova may not have had the opportunity to do so had Lafayette not coughed up the ball 16 times on the night. By comparison, Villanova turned the ball over only seven times.

Second half surge
Pinkston caught fire late, scoring 14 second-half points to lead Villanova back from its deficit. He finished the game with 22 points.

With the shots not falling from long range, Pinkston forced the issue inside, getting Lafayette to foul him more often than not. He sank 10 free throws in the win.

What’s next?
Villanova stays at home for a game against Mount St. Mary’s Tuesday at 7 p.m. The matchup will be the first between the teams since Nov. 27, 1998.

La Salle pummeled by VCU, 90-52, snapping 5-game streak

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La Salle pummeled by VCU, 90-52, snapping 5-game streak

RICHMOND, Va. -- Justin Tillman had 16 points and nine rebounds to lead five VCU players in double figures in a 90-52 victory over La Salle on Sunday.

VCU held La Salle to 15 made field goals and forced 16 turnovers.

VCU went on a 19-0 first-half run -- with 11 points from JeQuan Lewis -- for a 38-14 lead and the Rams led 42-16 at halftime after shooting 51.5 percent. Lewis made 5 of 6 shots and had 13 of his 15 points in the first half.

Samir Doughty added 15 points for VCU (15-5, 5-2 Atlantic 10). Ahmed Hamdy-Mohamed had 13 points and 11 rebounds and Jordan Burgess scored 10. Tillman was 7 of 10 from the field as the Rams shot 56.5 percent.

Jordan Price and Saul Phiri each scored 11 points for La Salle (11-6, 5-2) and Pookie Powell added 10. It was a season-high for the freshman Phiri but the Explorers were just 15-of-53 shooting (28.3 percent).

Jay Wright: No. 1 Villanova overcoming 'constant challenge' of championship hangover

Jay Wright: No. 1 Villanova overcoming 'constant challenge' of championship hangover

It's something Villanova is constantly battling, constantly fighting. Jay Wright feels it every day and so do his players.
 
The national championship hangover.
 
About 10½ months ago, Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Jalen Brunson and several other members of the current Villanova basketball team beat North Carolina, 77-74, at Reliant Stadium in Houston to win the national title.
 
It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and Wright’s challenge this year has been to try to make it a twice-in-a-lifetime experience.
 
He has a group of young kids who’ve scaled the highest mountain, who’ve lived a dream, who’ve experienced something only a handful of college basketball players ever get to experience.
 
And with that championship has come a sense of accomplishment that’s certainly deserving and understandable but also at odds with the hunger Wright needs from his players to be at their best every moment of this season.
 
That’s the battle Wright and his team is facing. Beating the NCAA championship hangover. 
 
“It’s definitely there,” Wright said Saturday after the Wildcats beat Providence at the Wells Fargo Center. “It’s something you have to deal with all the time, and as you have success it continues, and I’m sure when it comes NCAA Tournament time, it’s going to be (even stronger).
 
“I get it. Everybody said it to me and if someone asks me next year I would say the same thing, that it’s there and you really, really have to address it and deal with it. Every day.”
 
So far, they’re addressing it and dealing with it magnificently.
 
Villanova is 19-1 and ranked No. 1 in the country. The Wildcats’ only loss so far was to No. 12 Butler by eight points at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
 
Although Villanova graduated Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, the nucleus of last year’s 35-5 team is still here. Eight Wildcats averaged 17 minutes or more last year, and six of them — Hart, Jenkins, Brunson, Darryl Reynolds, Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth — are still in the program, although Booth is currently injured.
 
Hart, Villanova’s national Player of the Year candidate, said the championship hangover is a real thing he senses every day.
 
“Definitely,” he said. “Coach has been coaching longer than we’ve been alive. He’s got the experience, we’ve just got to lean on his experience. He’s been through these situations, and we just have to be humble and be coachable.”
 
The last team to win a national championship and get off to this good of a start was Duke in 2010-11.
 
But that Duke team lost its 21st game. A win at Marquette on Tuesday would make Villanova 20-1, and that would be the best record to start a season by a national champion since Duke opened 23-1 in 2001-02.
 
So from the outside, it seems like smooth sailing. But Wright swears the championship hangover is something he has to deal with every day.
 
“It’s everything,” Wright said. “You sense that home games are like shows, they’re not competitions. You can just sense it. You can feel it. Everybody’s coming to see the show.
 
“You can’t do that as a player because the other team’s coming in to beat the top team in the country, and they’re at another level. So your players sense it. Everything that goes on around them. The way everybody treats them, and what’s going on in their mind.
 
“They’ve done it. I’m sure there’s some times where Josh and Darryl and Kris are like, ‘All right, we’ve done this already, let’s get through this, let’s get to the NCAA Tournament.’ They never say it, but they’re human beings.
 
“You know there’s going to be some times, some times, when I’m on their butts about little things and they have to think, ‘Come on man, we did this already.’ You know? Then they catch themselves. They never say it, but I can just sense that sometimes.”
 
But the Wildcats keep on rolling. They’re now a remarkable 116-14 in four years with Hart, Jenkins and Reynolds on campus, by far the best record in Division 1 since the start of the 2013-14 season.
 
If anything, Jenkins, Hart and Brunson have all been even better this year than last.
 
Jenkins, who hit the historic buzzer-beater to topple North Carolina in the title game, has career-high averages of 14.3 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals and is shooting a career-high 43 percent from three.
 
Hart is shooting a career-high 53 percent and averaging career-highs of 19.2 points, 3.6 assists and 1.5 steals per game.

And Brunson, a sophomore, has blossomed after taking over the point, with 13.9 points, 4.3 assists and 2.5  rebounds per game.
 
“We just have to continue to get better,” Jenkins said. “I believe every guy in our locker room wants to continue to grow and become better. We’re not just satisfied with something we did last year. This is a brand-new year.”
 
Wright was asked if he’s ever had to deal with anything like this before.
 
He didn’t hesitate before saying simply, “No.”
 
In 2009, Villanova went 30-8 and reached the Final 4 but there’s no comparison, he said.
 
“Even after going to the Final 4 in ’09, a lot of those guys left,” Wright said. “We graduated six guys so it was a whole different team.
 
“We’ve got a lot of guys back. We only lost two starters. So all these guys have done it. Mikal Bridges didn’t do it as a starter, Darryl Reynolds didn’t do it as a starter, but they don’t think that way, kids don’t think that way. People don’t treat them that way. Even Jalen Brunson, he started but he was in a different role, but people treat him that way. ‘You’re the national champions, you did it.’
 
“Arch (Ryan Arcidiacono), Daniel (Ochefu), three walk-ons were leaders, they did a lot too.”
 
The Wildcats lost not only a Big East Player of the Year and one of the best big men in the program’s history but also a projected starting guard to injury and their top recruit to eligibility.
 
And they’re 19-1 and No. 1 in the country.
 
You can make a case that Wright is actually doing a better coaching job this year than last year.
 
“It’s just constant,” he said of the 2016 hangover. “They’ve handled it far better than I ever thought 18- to 22-year-olds could, but it’s a constant challenge.
 
“I know you (writers) have children. That’s exactly what it is. Your kid has some good days in school and does well, does his homework, (and thinks), ‘Yeah, I get it.’
 
"'OK, don’t get cocky now.’ Eighteen to 22. And they’ve been amazing. Amazing. But we definitely have to address it all the time.
 
“And I’m not complaining about it. I would take this challenge every year. There’s no reason to complain. You’re a jerk if you’re complaining about it. I’m just being honest about it, that it’s something we address. And I’m happy to do it. And so are they.”