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Villanova withstands blistering first-half shooting by Howard, gains 100-81 win over Bison

The visiting Bison shot lights-out in the first half but Villanova eventually found its footing and pulled away in the second half. Brandon Slater scored 23 points and Collin Gillespie added 21

Villanova University, Jermaine Samuels, 23, battles for a loose ball against Howard University, Kyle Foster during the second half of the game at Finneran Pavilion in Villanova, Pa. Tuesday, Nov 16, 2021.
Villanova University, Jermaine Samuels, 23, battles for a loose ball against Howard University, Kyle Foster during the second half of the game at Finneran Pavilion in Villanova, Pa. Tuesday, Nov 16, 2021.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

It’s not often that a visiting team comes into Finneran Pavilion and outshoots the home team, but that’s what happened in the first half Tuesday night when Howard came off the bus from Washington firing shots from everywhere and forcing Villanova to scramble defensively.

The Bison shot 73.9% from the floor in the first half and made 11 consecutive shots at one point. It was all the fifth-ranked Wildcats could do to keep pace with some sharpshooting of their own, like 10 three-point baskets in the opening period.

But things settled down at halftime for Villanova (2-1), which found more of a footing on defense in the second half and gradually pulled away to a 100-81 victory before the usual sellout crowd.

Villanova coach Jay Wright was impressed.

“I hope they’re a really good team because they looked like it to me, and we couldn’t guard them,” Wright said. “Thank God we can score. And I know they’re not a bad defensive team. I’m just hoping they’re really good. We just outscored them tonight. I give them a lot of credit.”

The Wildcats had their own shooting thing going on, sinking all 26 of their free-throw attempts. Brandon Slater led the way with 23 points, Collin Gillespie added 21, and Justin Moore chipped in with 16. Kyle Foster knocked down five threes and led Howard (3-1) with 19.

Villanova wasn’t exactly bad in the first half, shooting 57.1%, but the Bison were making everything. In an 8-plus-minute stretch of the opening period, they sank 11 consecutive shots — two of them three-pointers — and almost caught the Wildcats after going down by 11 points in the opening four minutes.

But Howard shot just 43.3% in the second half and the Wildcats, who hit at a 56% clip, established some daylight with the help of a 13-0 run that boosted their lead to 21.

Two halves in a game

The Wildcats, who led 52-44 at the half, were more dialed in when the second half began. Slater began the period with five points in the opening 31 seconds. Howard still had some baskets in the tank and reduced the deficit to eight on three occasions, the last time at 68-60 with 12:03 to play.

But the Bison came up empty on their next six possessions and the Wildcats went on their run. They were boosted by three three-balls — one by Jermaine Samuels (his first outside shot of the game to that point) and two by Gillespie. That made it 81-60 with 8:23 to play and the lead would later grow to 24.

Slater fills it up

Slater wasn’t known as a scorer in his first three seasons in Villanova, but with all the work he put in this last offseason, the term “scorer” fits him well. And Wright is happy for his success.

“Everybody in the program has watched him work hard, be patient, be loyal, be intelligent,” he said. “Everybody’s been rooting for him since he was a freshman. He’s a great teammate, so everybody wants it for him. I don’t think there’s a guy on our team that anybody’s happier for.”

Slater knocked down four three-pointers in as many attempts in the first half, then scored five points in the first 31 seconds of the second half as the Wildcats took their largest lead, 59-44. He ended up shooting 6-of-8 from the floor including 4-of-4 on threes, and sank all seven of his free-throw attempts. In three games, he is 9-of-12 from deep.

“All summer we’re in the gym, just us, no fans, no parents,” he said. “So we’re focusing on all the minor details that we do at Villanova. We want to catch to shoot first and if somebody’s flying at us or out of control, we want to get it into the paint.”

Extraordinary shooting

The Bison took some time to get acclimated to the Finn, and trailed 14-3 in the first four minutes. They were only 3-of-6 from the floor and trailed 18-9 after seven minutes before Foster hit a three-point basket to start the run of 11 straight makes, a variety of step back jumpers, finding open men on the perimeter, and even a backdoor layup.

Tai Bibbs hit the final shot in the run, a three-pointer, with 4:11 to play and the Bison trailed 39-35.

But the Wildcats started finding the range with six straight three-point baskets, and a 9-0 run that followed Bibbs’ three grew their lead back to 13, 48-35, on Slater’s bucket. The Bison came right back with a 9-2 run and Villanova had a 52-44 halftime lead.