VILLANOVA, Pa. – Villanova’s return to its roots produced an impressive victory as the Wildcats downed Penn 90-62 before a packed house Wednesday night at the Jake Nevin Field House. The Wildcats improved to 7-0 in the first ever Philadelphia Big Five clash played in a Field House that opened in 1931.
Junior Jalen Brunson led a balanced Wildcats’ attack with 17 points, four assists and a pair of rebounds. Redshirt freshman Omari Spellman played a pivotal role in the first half run when the Wildcats took control of the contest and finished with 14 points and seven rebounds.
Penn dropped to 5-4 on the season, 0-2 in the Big Five.
“It was a wild atmosphere in there,” stated Villanova head coach Jay Wright, whose team captured its 19th consecutive City Series win before a capacity crowd of 2,200. “It’s a difficult place to play, even when you’re the home team. You can’t hear anything. We legitimately had trouble communicating defensively in the first half. Even getting into our sets was tough. In the second half we said we were just getting into some basic sets.
“I just can’t imagine what that place used to be like when they had more seats in there.’
Both teams were warm early, with both the Quakers and the Wildcats converting four of their first five attempts from the floor. Penn edged in front 11-9 thanks as A.J. Broduer tallied six points. But just before the first official timeout, Spellman put together a highlight reel sequence including a thundering dunk and 3-point basket from the top of the key.
“Penn is tough and they never let up,” Wright said.
Nearly six minutes into the first half Villanova had itself a 16-11 lead. Ten of those points were scored by the redshirt freshman from Cleveland.
“The Big O has been doing a lot of good things – rebounding, playing unselfishly,” stated Wright. “It was nice to see him get it going offensively. He’s young and he’s getting it.”
For Spellman, there was no magic wand but a continued focus on the basic in this one.
“I really was just trying to do things I always do in practice,” he stated. “I was just playing for my teammates and coaches. I tried to make the right play.”
“Coach and my teammates have helped me mature a lot. I only try to worry about the things I can control. I can’t control if the ball is going in the hoop but I can control how hard I play, how hard I try to defend, how well I talk to my teammates. I really wasn’t worried too much about the offense.”
A stingy defensive effort helped the Wildcats build upon that lead. An 8-0 run midway through the period helped extend the advantage to 37-19 with 7:38 to play in the half.
At halftime, Villanova owned a 46-28 lead over the Quakers thanks to a balanced scoring attack that saw each Wildcat who saw action score at least one point. Spellman led the way with 10 points and four rebounds. VU limited Penn to 10-of-29 shooting from the field in the period (.345).
Penn narrowed the gap to 48-32 before the Wildcats’ offense ignited again. This time it was a 26-15 spurt that took VU out to a 74-47 advantage after Mikal Bridges picked up a Quakers’ turnover and broke ahead of the field for a dunk with 8:38 on the second half clock.
The final score was 90-62.
“I thought our leadership did a good job of getting our guys ready to play after coming back from Atlantis,” noted Wright. “We were ready to play against a good team.”
Villanova heads into another Big Five battle on Saturday when it visits Saint Joseph’s in a game that begins at 5:30 p.m. (ESPN2 and 610 Sports Radio).
The 2017-18 Villanova Basketball season is presented by KeyBank.