PITTSBURGH - Jay Wright says he had good reason for concern going into top-seeded Villanova's matchup against No. 16 Lafayette in its opening game of the NCAA East Regional, even if a 16th seed never had defeated a No. 1 since the tournament went to 64 teams in 1985.
Still, no matter how much apprehension he felt, Wright saw his Wildcats come out Thursday night and play as well as he hoped they would. They raced out to a 21-point lead in the first 14 minutes and rolled to a 93-52 victory over the Leopards at the Consol Energy Center.
The Wildcats (33-2), who won their 16th consecutive game, will take on No. 8 North Carolina State, a 66-65 winner over Louisiana State, in Saturday's third round at a time to be announced.
Villanova's balance against Lafayette (20-13), the Patriot League champion, was never more evident, with its eight-man rotation scoring between seven and 16 points. Defensively, the Wildcats bottled up the three-point-shooting game of the Leopards, a 41 percent team from the arc entering the game but makers of only 4 of 18 against 'Nova.
Wright could relax after a game that saw his team place six men in double figures, shoot 63 percent from the floor, knock down 11 three-point baskets, and lead by as many as 45 points in the second half. But after a tough game last year against Lafayette, and struggles this year against Patriot League members Bucknell and Lehigh, he was worried.
"We went back and watched the Bucknell game to prepare for this," he said. "Either our guys are going to really respect them and come really concerned and committed, or [the Leopards] were going to come really confident.
"I thought our guys really responded well. Obviously there wasn't another 16-1 matchup where they had this situation, having played each other the year before at home and almost getting beat."
The Wildcats really responded, jumping on the Leopards right away. After Lafayette's first three-pointer of the game cut the deficit to eight, Kris Jenkins nailed back-to-back three-pointers to spark a 13-0 run that gave 'Nova a 34-13 lead with 6 minutes, 4 seconds to play in the half. It was 49-26 at the break.
"That was a huge emphasis," senior guard Darrun Hilliard said of the fast start. "We know what kind of team they have; we've got a lot of respect for them. We knew if we didn't come in and play defense the way we're supposed to, it could be a closer game. But it was great to come out and jump on them from the start."
Any question of a Lafayette comeback was quashed when the Wildcats scored on their first four possessions of the second half and gradually lengthened their lead.
It was a long night for Lafayette coach Fran O'Hanlon, a star guard for Villanova from 1967 through 1970.
"We knew we had to get off to a good start," he said. "We had some open threes early. But when they didn't drop, it's a hard team to come back against."
Dylan Ennis led the Wildcats with 16 points. Daniel Ochefu added 14 points, nine rebounds, and three blocks, and Ryan Arcidiacono contributed 13 points and six assists. Dan Trist led the Leopards with 18 points.
While he was proud of his team's effort, Wright called the win "bittersweet" because it came against O'Hanlon, an active Villanova alumnus.
"Doing that against one of Villanova's wasn't that joyful," he said. "But that's what I was worried about, either losing or this kind of game against a good friend and great coach."
O'Hanlon was asked if he had any fun during the game against his alma mater.
"The funnest part was when the game ended," he replied. "I can go back to being a Villanova fan."