Villanova Avoids Trap Game with Easy Win over Rider

By Jeff Kelly
Howard Smith – USA TODAY Sports

It would have been easy for Villanova to look past a team like Rider on Saturday, as the Wildcats have a date with No. 2 Syracuse next weekend, and early on it looked like Rider may actually find themselves in position to pull off the upset. However, Villanova started to pull away toward the end of the first half and used a strong team shooting performance to run away with an 88-67 win and remain unbeaten.

Villanova looked like they’d be able to put things on cruise control early on, leading 25-12 at one point, but Rider simply refused to go away. It wasn’t until six points from Damun Hilliard in about a minute and a half span late that the Wildcats really began to pull away. Hilliard was one of the keys for Villanova as they went up 14 at half and ultimately led by as much as 26. The 6-foot-6 guard scored 13, but it was in that key stretch late in the opening half that he really made his biggest impact and pushed the Wildcats toward a win.

The Wildcats also used a big rebounding advantage, particularly in the first half, to push their lead into double figures. The final margin was deceptive, as Rider brought it back to a final edge of 37-29 in Nova’s favor, but the Wildcats grabbed 12 offensive boards and held a double-digit edge for the bulk of the game.

Hilliard’s other big contribution was his seven rebounds, and Daniel Ochefu grabbed six boards. But the big scorer in the game wound up being Josh Hart, who came off the bench to pour in a team-high 19 points. Hart was nearly perfect from long range, hitting 3-of-4 attempts, and also helped out on the glass with five rebounds. JayVaughn Pinkston scored 14, but was nearly invisible on the glass, with the 6-foot-7, 240-pounder hauling in just three boards.

Still, his performance on the glass didn’t prove to be necessary for the Wildcats to secure the win. After a shaky start, the Wildcats wound up shooting 50 percent from the field, which is actually deceptive in its own right since they were up in the mid-50s for most of the second half. It was a solid performance overall for Villanova, especially given how easy it would have been for Jay Wright‘s club to write it off as a win with both the holidays and the previously mentioned game at Syracuse both serving as distractions.

At the end of the day, Wright’s team was able to put both of those things out of mind to improve to 11-0 and, at least for now, solidify their spot in the top 10.

Jeff is an ACC basketball writer on Follow him on Twitter @jekelish and like him on Facebook.

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