Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

A step in the Wright direction

Posted by Eric Fisher On March 22

They don’t give you style points in the NCAA Tournament. You just have to win.

Villanova opened its defense of its NCAA championship Thursday by slogging its way to a difficult 61-57 victory over St. Mary’s in Hartford, Ct. This is the sixth straight first-round win for the Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova will face third-seeded Purdue, a 61-48 winner over Old Dominion, in the second round on Saturday (8:40 p.m.) in Hartford.

The 11th-seeded Gaels slowed the pace, often not even looking to shoot until 10 or fewer seconds were on the shot clock. But the sixth-seeded Wildcats were patient throughout most of the game.

“That was a tough game against a very good team,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said.

St. Mary’s led after the first half, 30-28. But Villanova took control with a 12-3 run at the start of the second half. The Wildcats never trailed again.

Senior Phil Booth, who scored a game-high 20 points, was instrumental in the Wildcats’ success at the start of the second half. He scored the first basket of the second half to even the score. Then he drove to the basket for a left-handed layup, drawing a foul in the process. Booth made the free throw to give Villanova a 33-30 lead. St. Mary’s tied the score with a 3-pointer, but Eric Paschall (14 points) answered with a 3-pointer of his own.

After Jermaine Samuels blocked a St. Mary’s shot, Booth drove to the basket before kicking the ball out to Saddiq Bey for an open jumper from the left corner. Samuels (12 points) then slammed home a dunk on a rare fast break during this slow-paced game, extending Villanova’s lead to 40-33 and causing St. Mary’s to call timeout.

The Gaels, who play at a deliberate pace better-suited to playing with a lead than coming from behind, managed to get within three points at one juncture, but never were able to catch up with the Wildcats.


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