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Villanova opens renovated arena by beating Morgan State, 100-77

With four new freshmen, the ninth-ranked Wildcats played a number of different combinations against an up-tempo Morgan State team that pressed the entire game.

Villanova guard Phil Booth dribbles the basketball against Morgan State guard Malik Miller during the first-half at the Finneran Pavilion on Tuesday, November 6, 2018.
Villanova guard Phil Booth dribbles the basketball against Morgan State guard Malik Miller during the first-half at the Finneran Pavilion on Tuesday, November 6, 2018.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Villanova spent opening night at the renovated Finneran Pavilion unveiling its four new freshmen and including them in a number of combinations that had the scorekeeper on his toes trying to keep track of all the substitutions.

Wildcats coach Jay Wright said Tuesday night after his team's 100-77 victory over Morgan State that he just wanted to keep his guys fresh against the Bears' full-court press. But he had some interesting groups on the floor, especially some times when all four freshmen played together.

"It wasn't playing lineups, it was just getting fresh bodies in there," he said. "Sometimes when we were doing that, we got caught with four freshmen on the court and they made some runs on us. But we're going to do that early in the season. It's not going to be pretty sometimes but we're going to get better."

The Wildcats, who used 11 players, can count on seniors Eric Paschall and Phil Booth to provide a steady hand. Paschall scored a game-high 26 points, going 7 of 11 from the floor and added seven rebounds. Booth added 17 points and four assists.

The freshman who provided the most valuable contribution Tuesday night was 6-foot-8 Saddiq Bey, who got off to an auspicious start by draining a pair of threes the first two times he touched the ball as a collegian. He had 16 points, going 5 of 8 from the floor and 3 of 4 from distance.

Bey played 22 minutes, the most of any rookie, "mostly because he defends and rebounds probably the best of the freshmen right now," Wright said.

"The other guys are catching up," he said. "Most of the guys we recruit, we know they can score. We need them to be able to fit in with what we're doing defensively. He seemed to pick it up the quickest."

Bey, a graduate of Sidwell Friends, the same high school in Washington that sent Josh Hart to Villanova, said he feels his versatility helps him.

"It's just do whatever the coaches and team needs, kind of bring versatility," he said. "But it's just whatever the team needs at that time, with whatever lineup, try to bring the aggressiveness."

Villanova shot 62 percent from the field and made nine three-pointers in the first half in taking a 54-43 lead, but Wright didn't like the 10 turnovers or the fact that Morgan State scored 14 points off the miscues.

The Wildcats' defense tightened a bit in the second half, which proved to be the difference since they shot just 3 of 18 from three-point range and 42 percent overall. Their lead gradually grew and a 12-0 run gave them a 76-57 lead with 10 minutes to play. The Bears didn't get closer than 15 the rest of the way.

It was a big opening night. The place was blaring with music during every timeout. The athletic department brought in a familiar national figure, unicyclist Red Panda, to be the halftime entertainment. Wright enjoyed the atmosphere.

"We didn't know if it was going to be different than the old Pavilion – better, worse," the coach said. "I think it's even better. I love the old Pavilion but this was loud, jumping the whole time. It was great. There's a different vibe in here, it's definitely louder, pretty cool."