Brunson, No. 1 Villanova aim to stay hot vs. Hofstra

The No. 1 Villanova Wildcats will play for the first time in nine days on Friday when they travel to Long Island to face Hofstra in what’s technically a home game for the visiting team.

With a $60 million renovation to The Pavilion, the Wildcats (11-0) have been playing the majority of their home games at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia with a couple of exceptions. They also played one home game against Penn at the Jake Nevin Field House.

This time, the Wildcats are playing in the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y.

In Villanova’s last game on Dec. 13, junior guard Jalen Brunson scored a career-high 31 points in the 87-67 victory at Temple.

“I’m really proud of Jalen,” said Villanova’s Jay Wright, who was the coach at Hofstra before taking the job with the Wildcats in 2001. “Phil Booth had a virus and wasn’t really himself. I knew Jalen would understand the situation.”

Brunson, the reigning Big East Player of the Week, scored 22 points by halftime.

“Jalen was incredible,” Wright said. “He can do that every night but we like to keep balance. With Phil being under the weather, I knew Jalen would be really aggressive. They did a good job of taking away our perimeter, which forced somebody to go create shots. La Salle did the same thing and we missed the shots. Jalen made the shots.”

Villanova also received a career-high 27 points from Omari Spellman. The freshman big man shot 11 of 14 and added eight rebounds and two assists in 28 solid minutes.

“It definitely helps being around players that are as good as my teammates are,” Spellman said. “I’m very appreciative of my teammates and coaches. They make it a lot easier for me.”

The Wildcats lead the all-time series with Hofstra 4-0, though the last meeting came in 1997 when Wright was coaching the Pride.

Hofstra was nipped by Manhattan 63-61 in its last game, falling to 7-4. Justin Wright-Foreman scored 22 points while Rokas Gustys added 10 points and 13 rebounds, but the Pride had their four-game winning streak snapped. Eli Pemberton also contributed 11 points and eight rebounds.

Wright-Foreman has now scored in double figures in 33 consecutive games while Gustys posted his fifth double-double of the season and the 39th of his career.

“We came up short,” Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich told reporters after the game. “I told our team I didn’t think we played with the desperation we needed. I thought they played hard. I thought they played harder than us.”

Hofstra committed 10 turnovers in the first half and ultimately came up short.

“This game will make us better,” Mihalich said. “This is going to sting. We had a chance to win at the end and we didn’t.”

The next game will be even more challenging for Hofstra against the top-ranked team in the country.

“Not a lot of teams get to play against the number one team,” Wright-Foreman said. “It should be an amazing experience for all of us.”