Villanova coach Jay Wright had expressed remorse that he didn’t give his bench players more time during a loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday, and he made up his mind that they’d get a better chance Tuesday night against Hartford.
However, it was one bench player in particular, redshirt freshman Eric Dixon, who made the biggest splash in the first extended playing time of his college career. The former Abington High School star scored 14 points and added 10 rebounds and 3 assists to help the 12th-ranked Wildcats to an 87-53 win over Hartford at Mohegan Sun Arena’s “Bubbleville.”
The 6-foot-8, 260-pound Dixon, who played 20 minutes, shot 6 of 10 from the field and showed some nice touch around the basket. He even attempted a three-point shot that rimmed out.
“That’s a great experience for him,” Wright said. “I love this kid. I think he’s going to be really good. The reason I can say I love him like that and not worry about his head blowing up is he’s very intelligent, very humble. He’s got great parents. They know he’s got work to do with his conditioning, and he’s working at it.
“Besides his points, he played with great intensity for 20 minutes. He got a little tired at one stretch, but that’s OK. I was really proud of him.”
Dixon said he wasn’t making a special effort to get into the flow right away but was just “taking whatever was there.
“I just got to spots and my teammates got me the ball where I’m comfortable,” he said. “I just tried to make the right play, make the right decision.”
In all, the Cats’ three primary bench players — Dixon, Cole Swider, and Brandon Slater — accounted for 40 points, with Swider and Slater scoring 13 points apiece against the Hawks (0-2). Six players scored in double figures for the Wildcats (3-1) and another had nine.
The Villanova bench had scored 23 points in the Wildcats’ first three games in the Uncasville, Conn., bubble but had 18 points by halftime Tuesday night when their team led 43-24. Dixon had seven points, four rebounds, and a blocked shot.
The Wildcats started the game 3 of 12 from the floor and followed that stretch with 12 baskets in 14 shots, including five three-pointers. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl ended that run with his only two points of the night, giving the Cats a 41-21 lead with 2:47 to play.
Three-point baskets by Collin Gillespie and Swider sparked a 14-1 run early in the second half that boosted Villanova’s lead to 29, 60-31. Dixon set up Swider for a layup and then hit a short jumper in the lane.
Justin Moore scored 15 points to lead the Wildcats, who sank 15 three-point baskets and shot 52.3% overall from the field. They held the Hawks, coached by former St. Joseph’s guard John Gallagher, to 38.5% shooting and outrebounded them 39-25. They scored on 59% of their possessions, accounting for 1.426 points per possession.
Villanova was scheduled to play two games at Bubbleville and wound up playing four. Wright said afterward that there would not be another game, at least not on this trip.
“I’m sure the players are just praying that I don’t call them back tonight and say we’re staying for another two days,” he said. “They loved it. Everything was great here. Mohegan Sun was great. But they want to go home.”