Mens Basketball: Villanova 75, Columbia 60 - D1SportsNet


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Mens basketball

Villanova 75, Columbia 60

PHILADELPHIA -- The final score might have been deceiving to the 10,504 fans in attendance.

Not to Villanova coach Jay Wright.

Eric Paschall had 15 points and nine rebounds, Jalen Brunson scored 14 points and sixth-ranked Villanova overcame a sluggish start before outlasting Columbia 75-60 Friday night in the season opener for both teams at the Wells Fargo Center.

"I think they're a really good team," Wright said of Columbia. "My first thought was, 'bad scheduling.' But I knew it would be a good test for us."

Donte DiVincenzo added 13 points and Omari Spellman had 11 points and 11 rebounds for the Wildcats, who led by only nine points, 32-23, at halftime.

Villanova (1-0) won 32 games last season and clearly looked to be missing the senior leadership of departing standouts Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds.

This year's Villanova team features four freshmen -- Collin Gillespie, Spellman, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and Jermaine Samuels. Spellman missed all of last season as an academic redshirt by the NCAA.

"We've got to get these guys experience," Wright said. "It might look bad early."

Brunson, the preseason pick for Big East Player of the Year, provided leadership throughout with 34 solid minutes. The Wildcats will rely on his experience with such a young group.

"We're gonna get on them," Brunson said of the freshmen. "As leaders, we have to show them how to play Villanova basketball."

Mike Smith paced the pesky Lions (0-1) with 19 points. As a freshman last season, Smith set a program record with 368 points scored. He started every game and scored in double figures 19 times.

"It felt good (and) I'm healthy," said Smith, who was 7 of 21. "It was a great environment to play in against the sixth-ranked team in the country. It was fun. I wish we would have won, but it was fun."

Kyle Castlin, who missed all of last season with a toe injury, also had 10 for Columbia.

Despite the loss, Columbia coach Jim Engles said that the experience will be beneficial as the season progresses.

"It was great for the guys," the second-year coach said. "When they were doing the announcements, I was, 'Like, damn, there are a lot of people here.'"

Perhaps fueled by a fiery pep talk at halftime, Villanova came out quite aggressive with a 10-2 run.

Phil Booth hit a 3-pointer, Paschall knocked down two free throws and DiVincenzo scored his first five points on a 3-pointer and a driving layup for a 42-25 advantage.

Columbia hung tough and trailed 52-40 with 11:50 remaining after a difficult 3-pointer by Smith.

But Villanova responded with a 7-0 spurt for a commanding 19-point cushion, which was more than enough to pull out a victory.

Villanova wasn't able to take control early in large part to poor shooting, going 11 of 31, including 4 of 18 from beyond the arc.

"We took open 3s," Wright said. "We just missed them."

Leading 27-21 late in the first half, Booth knocked down a 3-pointer and Brunson followed with a short jumper.

NOTES: Villanova has now won its past 15 regular season openers and improved to 16-1 under coach Jay Wright in the opener. ... The Wildcats will play 11 more games at the Wells Fargo Center this season while their on-campus arena undergoes a $60 million renovation. ... Columbia is 6-44 all-time against Top 25 competition. ... The Lions were picked fifth in the Ivy League preseason poll. ... Villanova will host Nicholls State on Tuesday night in the first career meeting between the schools.