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Villanova beats Quinnipiac behind Phil Booth’s hot hand

Phil Booth had a career scoring high to lead Villanova.

Phil Booth, center, of Villanova shoots between Tyrese Williams, left, and Abdulai Bundu of Quinnipiac during the 1st half at the Wells Fargo Center on Nov. 10, 2018.
Phil Booth, center, of Villanova shoots between Tyrese Williams, left, and Abdulai Bundu of Quinnipiac during the 1st half at the Wells Fargo Center on Nov. 10, 2018.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

The getting-acquainted portion of Villanova's basketball season may now be over, with fellow NCAA finalist Michigan showing up Wednesday at the Finneran Pavilion.

If you saw enough of Villanova's first two games — Tuesday beating Morgan State, 100-77, at home; Saturday night going downtown to host Quinnipiac, and winning, 86-53 — you've seen the new names and faces, and how Jay Wright might use them, even as he shuffles starting lineups.

You've seen there's enough veteran talent left to make Villanova dangerous offensively any night against anybody.

If you were at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night, you also saw a banner unveiled, the 2018 NCAA champions joining the 2016 champs and the 1985 champs.

Then you saw 'Nova overwhelm a team coached by Baker Dunleavy, top assistant of the '16 champs. It wasn't that Villanova simply overpowered Quinnipiac. Putting things away early, the Wildcats really crushed them with defense and jump shots.

"We really wanted to come in here and build confidence by playing this game," Dunleavy said. "It's hard to do that when you get jumped early."

Wright related a post-game hallway conversation with Dunleavy, how his former player and assistant noted that Villanova hadn't played on all gears all the time in the Morgan State opener.

"I knew this buzzsaw was coming," Dunleavy told his old boss.

"I knew you knew that," Wright replied.

For the Wildcats, Collin Gillespie got hot immediately, draining threes. Phil Booth, looking as fully healthy and dangerous as he did that night in Houston in 2016, when he scored 20 against North Carolina, had his midrange game going and kept getting to the foul line to put up 15-first half points; he finished with a career-high 23.

Returning from a knee injury that knocked out his 2016-17 season, and  another off-season of conditioning, Booth said the burst he had was "probably even better" than last season.

"It's just good to see him healthy, better than ever," Dunleavy said of Booth, despite being on the wrong end of things. "This is really what we all imagined that Phil would become."

When freshman Saddiq Bey hit a halftime-buzzer-beating three, Villanova had its largest first-half lead, 47-20, and had one more point on three-pointers than Quinnipiac had from everywhere.

In the second half, Villanova's depth kept growing the lead, pushing it up to 37 points midway through. The young guys on this team probably don't care about the opponent or numbers on the scoreboard, as they're trying to prove they deserve some more minutes.

Whatever category you chose, Villanova obviously had an insurmountable advantage. Some first-half numbers: Points off turnovers — Villanova, 14, Quinnipiac 6. Points in the paint — 12-6. Second-chance points — 12-2. Bench points — 15-2.

It wasn't as though Villanova was fast-breaking Quinnipiac off the court. The halftime numbers in that category were just 4-2. But put that in the category of unmeaningful stat. Villanova had control of this game without needing to race down the court.

That could change a bit Wednesday night, back on campus.