Wednesday, November 24, 2004

In Villanova's Season Opener, UMBC Retrievers Roll Over for Wildcats at Pavilion, 66-41

Villanova kicked off its 85th season of intercollegiate competition in outstanding form, crushing the Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers, 66-41. The contest was not as close as the final score indicated. 'Nova led 41-16 at halftime and truth be told, the game was over from the opening tap, when Curtis Sumpter - from Mike Nardi - and Randy Foye each threw down dunks, spurring 'Nova to a 10-0 run to start the game. Villanova's lead ranged as high as 64-30, before garbage time; some diminishing intensity and increasing sloppiness permitted the Retrievers to finish the game on a 11-2 run. Even so, Villanova's lead never fell below 25 during the entire second half. UMBC's Andrew Feeley ended up leading their feeble effort, with 12 points, as the Retrievers fell to 1-1 overall.

Ironically, UMBC's win this season came over Navy, where former VU coordinator of basketball operations Billy Lange just took over as head coach. UMBC's Randy Monroe, also in his first season as head coach, has as deep a Philadelphia pedigree as anyone in basketball. Monroe is a native of the city and played for Catholic League powerhouse Roman Catholic in the 1980s. He played at Textile (now Philadelphia U.) and Cheyney State before heading to La Salle as an assistant during its last glorious run in the late '80s.

This was the second straight season in which Villanova opened the season in stirring fashion. Last year, in the memorable midnight contest, a suspension-depleted Villanova squad shocked everyone by crushing Temple, 73-48, in the season opener.

Allan Ray led all scorers with 23 points, in just 26 minutes of action. The junior, named to the second-team All-Big East squad, demonstrated why: he drained five three-pointers in the first half, scoring 15 of Villanova's first 19 points. He was awesome, quite frankly. Ray shot 9-13 from the floor overall, 5-7 from three-point range, pulled down six boards and had three assists. Mike Nardi did an outstanding job running the point, playing 35 minutes, dealing ten assists against just a single turnover. Randy Foye also turned in a solid performance, scoring 16 points on 6-11 shooting, 4-7 from three-point range. Curtis Sumpter reached double figures as well, registering 14 points on 6-12 shooting and grabbing six boards.

Chris Charles, spelling the not-yet-100% Jason Fraser, was in the starting lineup and delivered a strong performance on the glass, pulling down five rebounds in just 18 minutes and swatting three UMBC shots. Charles also displayed some offensive skills with an impressive one-handed dunk in the second half. Fraser came off the bench to play 12 minutes; he had three boards, but he struggled, quickly sinking into foul trouble (he finished with four) and also committing four turnovers.

The short bench made meaningful contributions. Marcus Austin scored five points and had six rebounds in only 14 minutes, and Will Sheridan logged 25 minutes, scoring two points and hauling in five rebounds. They were major reasons for Villanova's massive rebounding advantage, as the Wildcats pounded the Retrievers on the glass, 42-27.

UMBC was hideously overmatched. The Retrievers are currently selected to finish 10th out of the ten-school America East Conference, and after tonight's performance, the reasons for that fact are quite evident. They tried hard, but they were no match for Big East-caliber players. Villanova clobbered them on the defensive end, holding their UMBC opponents to an anemic 32% shooting from the floor and 23% from three-point range. Meanwhile, the Wildcats shot a respectable 47% from the floor and a strong 42% from three-point range. The only fly in the ointment were the 14 turnovers, but a disproportionate number came during garbage time (the 'Cats had just four at halftime). And they were offset by 17 assists on the 26 field goals.

With Ray leading the way, 'Nova went up 19-9, and then cruised to a huge lead, raising its advantage to 35-11 after Sumpter put in a layup following a steal by Nardi at the 4:27 mark. When Sheridan scored off a Sumpter miss at the 1:30 mark, Villanova held a 41-16 lead, its largest of the game at that point, and they took that into the locker room, punctuated by an Austin block at the buzzer.

'Nova was shooting 60% from the floor and 57% from three-point range at intermission, with 17 points from Ray and 13 from Foye. The team cooled off during the second half, as the teams battled to a 25-25 draw. Nonetheless, do not be deceived by that fact. Villanova had a 34 point lead deep into the second half, and had the proper intensity been maintained, they could certainly have held it. Any time you hold a opponent to just 41 points in this day and age you've had quite a successful contest. 'Nova scored just two points in the final 8:04 - and still won the game by 25 points. Ross Condon, Tom Grace, and Baker Dunleavy made cameo appearances during the final 55 seconds of action.

This was only the second contest between the schools. However, this game was a refreshing contrast to the first one, which took place two seasons ago, with Villanova riding the crest of preseason buzz about the recruiting class of Sumpter, Foye, Ray, and Fraser. UMBC actually LED at halftime of that game, 29-26, before Villanova recovered to win, 72-60. And the Wildcats were outrebounded, 40-39, in sharp contrast to tonight's game.

Villanova will enjoy an 11-day respite over the Thanksgiving holiday. Their second game will not take place until Saturday, December 4, when they travel to the Palestra to take on the Temple Owls in the Big Five Classic. The Owls will undoubtedly be looking for revenge after last year's debacle.

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