Talk about making the best of a situation you did not ask for. This isn’t just a rose-colored thing for Villanova’s basketball team. Bryan Antoine, a 5-star Wildcats shot-making guard, could not start the beginning of his freshman season right on time after shoulder surgery.
Step right up, Justin Moore, another freshman, more of a 4-star guy, if that means anything, but a guard Villanova really wanted -- just maybe someone who would have had to wait his turn a bit if Antoine had been ready to go at the start.
Maybe, or maybe not. That’s all conjecture. This is fact: Moore has now proven he’s ready to help. When Villanova started draining three-pointers to put Saturday’s game away against Ohio University, taking it 78-54 win inside the Wells Fargo Center, Moore was in the thick of things, making more than his share, scoring 15 of his 18 points before halftime.
So Villanova, now 2-1, at least beat one team from the state of Ohio this week, after getting knocked around Wednesday at Ohio State. Saturday, Moore and Saddiq Bey led the way, with Bey scoring 19
This Moore performance wasn’t a complete surprise. Moore had scored 39 points in a closed-door scrimmage at North Carolina, making 9-of-12 threes.
Did that day open Jay Wright’s eyes a little bit more, or had he already seen enough from Moore by that time in practice?
“You know these guys have it in them. You don’t know when they’re going to show it at this level,’’ Villanova’s coach said. “I thought that North Carolina scrimmage, he showed it. I think he’s very respectful of the other guys. We told him we need you on this team, and you can be aggressive, not just shooting but play-making. He only had one turnover [against Ohio], and he had the ball a lot.”
Wright said bringing in Moore and Antoine together “was a big part of our recruiting plan.” The truth is, Villanova won’t fully show what it has until Moore, Antoine, and Collin Gillespie can split up the guard minutes.
When asked for the umpteenth Antoine update, Wright joked, “I never mind you guys asking because you always have to listen to me say we’re going to be as good as we can be by the end of the year.”
“He’s been practicing,’’ Wright said of Antoine. “He’s been banged around. The shoulder looks really good. So it’s positive. Right now, we’re thinking after Thanksgiving we’re going to get an evaluation on whether we can put him in a game. Each time we meet [with a doctor], I try to ask, ‘Is he OK? He looks pretty good in practice.’ ‘’
(Another update: You haven’t seen Eric Dixon in a practice because the hope right now is for him to redshirt, Wright said, given the frontcourt depth.)
Moore doesn’t sound like the type to assume anything. A 25-point loss to Ohio State also will do that to you. Was this going to be a Furman game from last season, when you expected a bounce-back that never came? It was not. Lessons from Ohio State?
“After starting out slow, we kind of backed down,’’ said Moore, who had six points in 24 minutes against the Buckeyes. “We can’t do that. We’ve got to keep fighting. That’s what Villanova does.”
In the backcourt, Gillespie and Moore mostly stayed out there Saturday until things were decided.
“We tried to play big, get away with it, just to keep those guys fresh,’’ Wright said.
Despite not hitting any threes and turning the ball over a bit, Ohio had hung around and actually took a brief lead with under 7 minutes left in the half. Then Villanova revved up and ended things, going on a 27-4 run to close out the half. Bey had a strong rebound and muscled in a hoop while getting fouled, converting the three-point play.
From there, Moore hit a three, and Bey hit a three. Jermaine Samuels got his shot blocked inside, but he stayed with it, taking the ball away from the scrum. That ball ended up with Gillespie driving, finding Samuels, now over in the right corner, where he hit a three for a 35-21 lead.
Right after, Brandon Slater hit from the right corner. Moore hit another from the same corner. When Moore drove to score the last of his 15 first-half points, Villanova brought a 43-21 lead into the locker room. That was that. It won’t always look pretty this season, but for that stretch it actually did. And one freshman already had shown that given an opportunity, it’s not going to pass him by.