NEWARK — Villanova’s offense was like a strategic, finesse-style boxer. The Wildcats kept throwing steady blows that eventually added up to a large amount of success.
There was no overwhelming momentum shift like a Mike Tyson right hook. The offense and defense never looked overly dominant, but the Wildcats (8-2) kept punching their way to a 78-70 victory over a feisty Delaware (9-2) team at the Prudential Center.
Delaware’s leading scorer, Nate Darling, was emphasized defensively. Villanova defenders gave him a tough time in the first half, but he hit a hot streak in the second that cut the Wildcats’ lead to 47-46. That was as close as it got. Every time the Blue Hens put together a mini-run, the Wildcats’ offense would answer.
Jay Wright teams have been known for their ability to shoot three-pointers. This team can fill it up as well, but that’s not how it will reach its ceiling. Whenever Villanova got the ball inside, there was success. The problem was the Wildcats relied much more on threes. They finished 27-for-57 (47.4%) from the field, including 10-of-31 (32.3%) from three. The Wildcats shot 65.4% on their two-point attempts.
Justin Moore continued to showcase his craftiness and shot-making with 16 points, and Jermaine Samuels scored 13 in the second half to finish with a team-high 18 points. Saddiq Bey added 13, and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl had 10 points and eight rebounds.
Most of the game, Delaware and Villanova were close to even in most categories, except for free-throw shooting. Villanova made 14 of its 17 attempts, but the Blue Hens went 7-for-16. Nine missed free throws in an eight-point loss will sting.
Darling led Delaware with 29 points on 10-for-19 shooting.
“We’re an inexperienced team that every new situation or game is a learning lesson for us,” coach Jay Wright said. “We learned a lot today.”
“[Nate Darling] is a heck of a player,” Villanova’s Jermaine Samuels said. “The ability to shoot the ball, and I think people underrated his ball-handling ability to get downhill.”
“I think like Coach said, this truly humbles us, because we don’t try to look at the results of the game, we try to look at how we played throughout the game," Villanova’s Saddiq Bey said.
The Wildcats controlled the game. They led for the final 38 minutes, 31 seconds after Delaware scored the first basket. These types of games will prepare Wright’s young squad on how to play in tight games in conference play.
Looking at the stats can sometimes lead to incorrect assumptions. Villanova attempted 31 three-pointers, but most of them were good looks. It’s a make-or-miss game, and on another given night, the Wildcats are more than capable of hitting a higher percentage on those types of looks.
This was the fourth annual Never Forget Tribute Classic. Mississippi State beat Kansas State, 67-61, in the first game of the doubleheader. The tournament was created to honor the men and women who are tasked with protecting the country’s freedom since 9/11.