CHICAGO – Sometimes, things click and everything becomes clearer. If that's what is occurring with Villanova freshman forward Jermaine Samuels, it has come at a most opportune time for the No. 1-ranked Wildcats.
Even if freshman guard Collin Gillespie had not broken a bone in his hand, Samuels was one of the young players who Wildcats coach Jay Wright was hoping would develop to add to his team's depth. With Gillespie out indefinitely, that need just became more urgent.
Samuels didn't just play a career-high 16 minutes on Wednesday night — he also made valuable contributions in the Wildcats' 103-85 win at DePaul in their Big East Conference opener.
By also getting career highs with 11 points, three rebounds and a block, Samuels looked like the kid for whom the light suddenly clicked.
"That was very important for me," said Samuels, who was 3 for 3 on field goals and 4 for 4 on free throws. "I want to help this team get as far as possible and also be able to give some of the guys out there a break."
In the past two games, against Hofstra and DePaul, Samuels, who had totaled 22 minutes in the previous eight games, has given the Wildcats 27 minutes. That has allowed Wright to not have to increase significantly the minutes for the top six players in the rotation to compensate for the loss of Gillespie, who had averaged 13.2 minutes.
"(Samuels) is talented, and his teammates love him," Wright said. "For whatever reason, he's just had a hard time picking up our system, not because of a lack of effort, but he's starting to get it. We got 16 minutes out of him, while Omari (Spellman), Phil (Booth) and Jalen (Brunson) had 30. That's where we need to be."
Samuels concedes that he did have trouble figuring out what the coaches and his teammates needed him to do. Instead of getting frustrated, he has kept working to get things right.
The rewards for his efforts might be coming.
"It was a lot all at once and I was having a hard time picking up all of the concepts, especially learning how to play the three within the concepts," Samuels said. "I keep working and it's coming. I'm just out there trying to play aggressively."
If Villanova can always score 103 points, it can survive being outrebounded by 50-32 and still win by 18 points.
To a man, however, the Wildcats know that they can't rely on draining 15 three-pointers and shooting 54.3 percent from the floor. The offense can be fickle, but rock-solid defense is the reliable way to stay in any game.
In the first eight games, Villanova surrendered more than 65 points three times. Now the Wildcats have done that in five consecutive games, including a season-high 85 to DePaul.
"Offensively, this is the most efficient team we've had," Wright said, "but we need some work defensively and on rebounding."
Spellman might not be ready to let go of 2017.
With 12 points and 12 rebounds against DePaul, the redshirt freshman has four double-doubles in six games in the final month of the year. In December, Spellman has made 33 of 53 field goals (62.2 percent) and 14 of 20 (70 percent) three-pointers. He has averaged 15.2 points and 9.5 rebounds.
The Wildcats have one more game in December, at Butler on Saturday.