No. 12 Villanova rolls in home opener, but tough games around corner
Even though they were playing an overmatched opponent, Villanova wasn’t taking any chances in its home opener.
Kris Jenkins had 15 points to lead No. 12 Villanova in an 81-44 rout over Maryland-Eastern Shore on Monday night.
Daniel Ochefu, Darrun Hilliard and Dylan Ennis each scored 10 points for the Wildcats (2-0), who were picked to win the Big East. Villanova returns four of five starters from a team that went 29-5 overall and 16-2 in the Big East to finish first in the regular season before losing to eventual national champion UConn in the NCAA tournament.
The Wildcats scored 13 of the game’s first 15 points on their way to a 45-14 halftime lead.
"I was really pleased with that first half," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "We played that first half as if we were playing Georgetown or Syracuse. That made the difference in the game."
Devin Martin had 17 points and 10 rebounds for Maryland-Eastern Shore (0-2), which lost 71-46 at Virginia Tech in its season opener Friday. The Hawks played their second of eight straight games away from Hytche Athletic Center.
The game was part of the Progressive Legends Classic. Villanova next hosts Bucknell on Thursday before the tournament shifts to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Nov. 24 with Villanova playing No. 15 VCU and No. 24 Michigan facing Oregon.
Ryan Arcidiacono’s 3-pointer 3:55 into the game gave Villanova a 13-2 lead, and the Wildcats poured it on from that point.
Consecutive dunks by Phil Booth and Hilliard in the final minute of the first half helped Villanova take a 30-point lead, and Jenkins’ free throw capped a 15-0 run to end the opening 20 minutes.
"You know, (Jenkins) is like a quiet assassin," Wright said. "I didn’t even know he did anything. He’s always in the right spot. He doesn’t make the spectacular play but he makes the right play."
Jenkins, who slimmed down in the offseason, said his play is a product of his teammates’ belief in him.
"They let me know that if I got the weight off, practice hard and get better every day everything would translate over into the game," he said.
Villanova struggled from the field in its 77-66 season-opening win over Lehigh on Friday night, hitting 38 percent from the field and 24.2 percent from beyond the arc. But the Wildcats found the familiar rims of their on-campus home to be quite comfortable in the opening 20 minutes, making 54.8 percent from the field.
They finished at 56.9 percent.
The Wildcats led by as many as 46 points in the second half.
Villanova: The Wildcats eclipsed 70 points in both of their wins this season. They were 25-1 last season when scoring more than 70 points.
Maryland-Eastern Shore: The Hawks return no starters and feature eight newcomers with four freshmen and four junior college transfers under first-year coach Bobby Collins as they look to improve on last season’s 6-24 mark. UMES’ returning leading scorer, Devon Walker (6.9 ppg), went scoreless against Villanova.
Villanova: hosts Bucknell on Thursday.
Maryland-Eastern Shore: plays at Mount St. Mary’s at on Wednesday.
Wright, a 1983 Bucknell graduate, is 4-0 against his alma mater while at Villanova.
"It’s fun," he said. "There are a lot of Bucknell alumni in the area. I root for them and follow them. They’ve got a good, young team."
NOT LOOKING AHEAD
Wright said the Wildcats are focused on Bucknell and not on Monday’s highly anticipated matchup against VCU in Brooklyn.
"We have no thoughts about that yet," he said. "We really do focus one game at a time. I don’t worry about that at all."