PHILADELPHIA, Pa. - Junior forward Eric Paschall scored 15 points to lead four players in double figures and No. 6 Villanova (1-0) eased past Columbia (0-1) by a final score of 75-60 in the season opener for both teams at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night. Junior guard Jalen Brunson added 14 points and redshirt freshman forward Omari Spellman contributed a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds in his official collegiate debut.
"That was a very smart, well-coached Columbia team to play against," Wildcats head coach Jay Wright said. "They are a really good team. I knew this would be a good test for us. They are talented, execute well and have experienced players. Our experienced players played well tonight and some of our young guys got their first taste of playing. That's what we are going to have to do this year."
Although the Wildcats never trailed in the contest, the key to the game was a 19-4 run spanning the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half. Villanova led 25-21 after a Lions basket with 4:23 left in the first half, but stretched the margin to 32-23 at the break and then surged to a 44-25 advantage with 16:51 left in the game. A three-pointer by Phil Booth on the opening possession of the second half put the Wildcats ahead by double digits for good.
Villanova shot just 36 percent from the field in the first half before making four of its first five shots in the second half to give life to the game's decisive run. Paschall scored nine of his 15 points in the second half and Spellman had nine points and nine rebounds following the break. Donte DiVincenzo added 13 points for the Wildcats, including five points in quick succession on a three-pointer and then a layup in the opening minutes of the second half. Villanova also got eight points and seven rebounds from Mikal Bridges in a balanced overall effort.
The first half was mostly a back-and-forth affair, with Columbia staying within striking distance of the Wildcats early on. Mike Smith was 7-of-21 from the field and scored a game-high 19 points to lead the Lions, while Kyle Castlin also reached double figures with 10 points. Columbia made 6-of-11 shots from three-point range in the second half.
Another decisive factor in the game was the Wildcats dominance on the glass. Villanova had a 45-32 rebounding edge and turned 16 offensive caroms into a 15-6 edge in second chance points. Spellman and Paschall combined for 11 rebounds on the offensive end. As for the backcourt, the Wildcats were efficient in limiting mistakes throughout the game. Villanova turned the ball over just seven times and had only one miscue in the entire second half.
The game marked the first time that the Wildcats played a season opener at the Wells Fargo Center, where they will play 12 games during the 2017-18 campaign while the on-campus Finneran Pavilion undergoes renovations. Villanova is now 51-34 (.600) all-time in the building on Broad Street, and has won 41 of its last 60 games there dating back to the start of the 2004-05 season. A crowd of 10,504 was on hand for the season opener.
Next up for the Wildcats is a Tuesday night game against Nicholls, with tip-off slated for 6:30 p.m.
The 2017-18 Villanova Basketball season is presented by KeyBank.