This wasn’t the way Villanova wanted to begin its defense of its NCAA Tournament title.
The Wildcats emerged from the first round with a 76-56 victory over Mt. St. Mary’s in Buffalo, but the final score is misleading. The Wildcats (32-3) had to scratch and claw to climb out of a first-half deficit,a nd then used 13 straight points early in the second half to take control.
Villanova didn’t score until the game was more than six minutes old. With 13:53 remaining in the first half, redshirt freshman Donte DiVincenzo finally broke the ice after Mt. St. Mary’s scored the game’s first seven points. DiVincenzo came off the bench to lead Villanova with 21 points and 13 rebounds, the first double-double of his career.
The Wildcats continued to struggle throughout the first half. Josh Hart picked up his second foul with 11:23 left in the first half. Jalen Brunson also picked up two first-half fouls. The foul trouble didn’t help the situation, but the Wildcats were offtrack even with Hart and Brunson on the court.
Villanova didn’t take its first lead until 1:22 was left in the first half. The teams traded baskets before Brunson knifed his way to the basket, providing Villanova with a 30-29 lead entering halftime.
A No. 1 seed had never lost to a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The combined record for top seeds in the first round was 129-0 entering last night’s game. Villanova didn’t want to be first. Mt. St. Mary’s regained the lead for a final time with the first basket of the second half, but the Wildcats reeled off 13 straight points to take the lead for good.
Brunson and Mikal Bridges contributed 14 and 13 points, respectively, to the victory. Hart added 11 points. Eric Paschall came off the bench to deliver 10 points, combining with DiVincenzo to give the Wildcats a scoring presence coming off the bench. Kris Perkins, who hit the winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in last year’s championship game, made just 2 of 13 shots from the field and finished with seven points.
Villanova will likely have to play much better against Wisconsin, an 84-74 winner over Virginia Tech. If the Wildcats don’t play better on Saturday, they might not even make it to the Sweet 16.