This was no way for Villanova, the nation’s ninth-ranked team and the preseason favorite to win the Big East, to begin its conference season.
The Wildcats trailed Georgetown – the team picked by league coaches to finish in last place – by 18 points late in the first half Friday night, appearing to be a step slow on defense and unable to knock down open looks from three.
Things changed in the second half, however. The Cats started the second half with a 20-4 run in the first six-plus minutes and put the game away with a late 13-0 spurt, defeating the Hoyas, 76-63, at McDonough Arena in Washington for coach Jay Wright’s 599th career victory.
Villanova (5-1, 1-0 Big East) shot 50% from the floor in the second half and knocked down eight of its 15 three-point baskets, outscoring the Hoyas (2-3), 43-17. Collin Gillespie and Caleb Daniels led the Wildcats with 18 points apiece, combining for 24 points in the second half.
After shooting 58.1% in the first half, Georgetown was limited to 26.7% in the second half and turned the ball over nine times.
“I thought we got good looks in the first half and didn’t make them, but defensively we were a step behind everything they did,” Wright said. “They were a little more prepared for us and maybe we were a little more predictable.
“In the second half, I just thought we got comfortable with what they were doing. We didn’t make any great changes. We just defended what they were doing better.”
Gillespie, who went 5 of 7 from beyond the arc and contributed six assists, said his team focused better on defense in the second half after being “a little lackadaisical” in the first.
“We were just playing a lot harder,” he said. “We were working hard inside to try to get position so that they couldn’t get easy touches, making sure it was difficult for them to enter the ball. I think overall, it was just kind of playing harder, locking into the [scouting report] and just doing what we do on the defensive end.”
A hook shot by 6-foot-11 Qudus Wahab gave Georgetown a 46-28 lead with 2½ minutes left in the first half. The Wildcats scored the final five points of the period and then came out clicking at both ends of the court in the second half, hitting 7 of their first 9 shots, including 5-of-6 from three.
Gillespie went for nine points in the run and a trey by Daniels gave ‘Nova a 53-50 lead with 13:40 left in the second half.
The game was close for the next eight minutes. The Hoyas held their last lead, 61-60, on a baseline floater by Jahvon Blair with 5:54 remaining. Daniels then knocked down a pair of threes in one minute to spark the run of 13 consecutive points during which the Cats held the Hoyas scoreless for 4:23.
Daniels also had five threes in the game. Cole Swider contributed 10 points off the bench and Justin Moore added six assists and a team-high eight rebounds. Villanova scored 20 points off 12 Hoyas turnovers.
“It was a Big East battle,” Wright said. “Everything we tried to do [in the first half], they had an answer for. I’m proud of our guys just grinding it out on the road and continuing to play for 40 minutes. In this league, you get a win on the road, it’s very, very valuable.”