The #5 Villanova Wildcats opened their 90th season of intercollegiate play, under an inauspicious omen, the first-ever (most likely, we assume) season opener on Friday the 13th. As noted in the previous post, the superstition of triskaidekaphobia is not likely a problem on the Main Line. (Even after February's game, last season, on Friday the 13th - while ranked #13, no less - Villanova was crushed @ West Virginia, in the most unpleasant loss of the season.)
And there were early harbingers, that perhaps something was amiss at the Pavilion. The overmatched Fairleigh Dickinson Knights held a three-point lead, late in the first half, and trailed just 35-34 at intermission. Fortunately, any superstitious Wildcats fans had to be reassured by the second-half performance. The Wildcats roared out of the locker room to slay the gallant Knights, 84-61, winning the second half by 22 points.
Accordingly, in the future annals of this season in Villanova's rich history, nobody will find it unusual, that Villanova - seeking to reach the Final Four for the second straight season, unprecedented in school history - easily turned aside a challenge on opening night, by a 23-point margin. But the simple final score doesn't tell the entire story.
Many players made their official Wildcats debuts last night: freshmen Mouphtaou Yarou, Maalik Wayns, Dominic Cheek, and Isaiah Armwood, along with Duke transfer Taylor King, a sophomore, and Maurice Sutton, a redshirt freshman. In fact, 83 of the 200 Villanova minutes were from new players, who had never previously logged a single minute as a Wildcat. (Granted, King and Sutton were permitted to practice with the team last year, and thus directly experienced the craziness of the Final Four run, but neither had played for the Wildcats under game conditions, until last night.)
And on such a night, one to consider new beginnings, to take a single step on the Road Back to the Final Four, credit must be given to the new players, who helped Villanova win its seventh straight season opener. In opening games, they are now 8-1 under Jay Wright, and when the Wildcats have been fortunate enough to play the season opener at home, they are now 63-3, all-time.
Looking at the Box Score
Scottie Reynolds, playing in his final home opener, had a dreadful night. In 28 minutes, he went 2-10 from the floor, missing all four three-point attempts, and finishing with just eight minutes. For a team which has lost the offensive firepower from Dante Cunningham and Dwayne Anderson, it's fortunate that he had the off night against FDU and not a more formidable opponent. And Reynolds also spent much of the game, saddled with foul trouble.
The offensive fireworks came from both Coreys, the only Wildcats to reach double figures. Stokes led all scorers with 20 points, despite playing only 28 minutes; he was an outstanding 5-10 from three-point range, adding four rebounds and two assists. Fisher finished with 13 points, four rebounds and four assists, in 31 minutes.
A big help also came from Antonio Pena, who narrowly missed a double-double with nine points, 10 rebounds, three assists, and two steals. Turning to the new players, King also had a fine game, contributing nine points, seven rebounds, and a blocked shot in only 20 minutes. Yarou had half a dozen points and three rebounds; Wayns also had half a dozen points. Cheek had eight points, four rebounds, and a pair of assists. Armwood only got one minute, and did not score.
Sutton made a large impact in his paltry half a dozen minutes - he finished with five points, a pair of offensive rebounds and a block - if those numbers were projected onto 30 minutes of play, that's a 25-point, 10 board, five-block game, which would be outstanding.
The team as a whole did well at avoiding turnovers, particularly without minutes from suspended senior guard Reggie Redding. The Wildcats had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 16-8, while Fairleigh Dickinson had a ratio of 7-14; it's unusual for the math to work out so precisely, with one team having an exact 2-1 ratio while the opponent had it 1-2, but that's what happened.
Next Up for the Wildcats
Villanova is now 1-0 overall, with its 90th season underway, and embarks on its 55th year of participation with the Philadelphia Big Five. The Pennsylvania Quakers travel to the Pavilion on Monday evening... More on the City Series opener, as we get closer to game time...
Various Viewpoints - Fairleigh Dickinson Recaps
Go check out the Fairleigh Dickinson recaps, from the other fine Villanova blogs - some go directly to a game story link, others to the respective home pages of the blog:
vuhoops.com - Villanova / Fairleigh Dickinson
Villanova by the Numbers
The Villanovan Sports Blog