After three easy victories, Villanova found itself face to face Sunday with an Akron team that last week walked into one of the toughest arenas in the country and walked out with an upset victory.
The Zips controlled nearly the entire first half before the 11th-ranked Wildcats found their footing behind the play of Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono, who combined to carry their team to a 75-56 victory in the second round of the NIT Season Tipoff at the Pavilion.
Hart scored a career-high 27 points, and Arcidiacono added 15 points, eight assists, five rebounds, and zero turnovers as the Wildcats (4-0) won their 30th consecutive game at their campus arena.
The Zips (3-1) certainly didn't come in scared. On Wednesday, they defeated Arkansas, 88-80, breaking the Razorbacks' streak of 54 home victories against nonconference opponents. They shot better than 50 percent in the game and knocked down 13 threes.
"That is a good team," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "We didn't start slow today. They're really good. They know how to play. They've got older upperclassmen. They came in, they executed, they were tough and physical. We got some good shots, and they were just physical at the rim, hard contested shots."
Akron made 10 of its first 17 shots, including six threes, and led by as many as eight points. The Wildcats whittled away at the deficit; took their first lead at 34-31 on Hart's three-point play with 1 minute, 49 seconds left in the opening half; and took control with an 18-1 run.
Hart scored three baskets toward the end of the run, which started in the first half and carried into the second, and his three-point basket with just over 13 minutes to play gave the Wildcats a 56-36 lead.
Hart shot 11 of 21 from the field and sank three three-pointers. Once he started hitting from deep, the Akron defenders came out to guard him, and he was effective driving to the rim.
"Coach always preaches catch and shoot," Hart said, "and they just came out on us as shooters. We were able to kind of get downhill, get to the rim, get into the lane, pivot, get other people shots."
The other key cog in the game was Arcidiacono, the senior leader whose totals through four games include 22 assists and one turnover.
"It's really incredible numbers," Wright said. "I don't want to jinx him, but . . . he's always played great offensively, I just think he's playing the best offensively he's played since he's been here. Maybe his numbers aren't as high, but his efficiency is off the charts."