Andy Edwards (@DLNAndyEdwards)
Ryan Arcidiacono missed his entire senior season at Neshaminy High with a back injury.
On Sunday afternoon, the freshman phenom proved it’s still healthy enough to carry a team.
Arcidiacono scored 20 of his career-high 25 points in the first half as Villanova withstood a monster effort from D.D. Scarver and pulled away late for an 80-68 victory over Marshall in a game played in front of a late-arriving Pavilion crowd. James Bell added 19 points and Darrun Hilliard 15 for the Wildcats (2-0), whose guard trio was just enough to overcome 22 from Scarver, the junior college transfer who knocked down five of Marshall’s 12 three-pointers. Dennis Tinnon had 15 points and nine rebounds and Chris Martin chipped in 13 for the Herd (1-1), including a long ball that brought them to within 70-68 with four minutes to play, but Marshall would get no closer. Bell knocked down a corner three on the next possession, and the Wildcats scored the game’s last 10 points to sew up an impressive nonconference victory in the 2K Sports Classic.
“I felt good shooting the ball in warm-ups,” Arcidiacono said. “My first couple shots went down and Coach had the confidence in me. I got a couple ball screens and they went under, and Coach said to be aggressive and look for my shot coming off the screens. That’s what I did, and lucky enough I got a few to fall for me.”
After Martin’s triple cut cut it to two, Arcidiacono and the young Wildcats faced their first adversity of the young season, with a Marshall squad picked to finish second in Conference USA breathing down their necks with a late push. In the biggest moment of his fledgling career, Arcidiacono looked like a seasoned veteran, driving the lane and kicking to an open Bell on the wing. Bell knocked down the open look, bringing momentum back to the home side and jump-starting the Wildcats’ late-game surge.
“Arch hasn’t really been in a game like that, so I was really just watching to see what happens,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “When they it to two, we’re going to see if we have the guts to fight through it…Everything we go through with him at the point is going to be a new experience for us. He made a great play.”
With just two points in the second half to his credit, Arcidiacono said he was looking to take it himself. Instead, Bell’s defender left him in the corner to stop the hard-charging point guard, and Arcidiacono read it perfectly.
“I looked to score and I kind of brought his man in, and I knew he was going to knock it down,” Arcidiacono said. “I gave him an open shot and he’s a deadly shooter.”
“I’m always looking to shoot and take advantage of my opportunities, but I never feel like I have to score,” said Bell, who made seven of his 12 attempts from the field. “My teammates put me in a good position…When I had my open shots I took advantage of it.”
With the guards leading the way on offense, the rest of the Wildcats focused their efforts on the defensive end and the glass. Villanova was all over the floor, diving for loose balls, and frustrating the high-powered Herd into a number of offensive fouls. The Wildcats forced 16 turnovers and outperformed the Herd on the glass, holding a Marshall team that racked up 18 offensive rebounds in a season-opening rout of Longwood to just three extra opportunities. Villanova also held prolific guard DeAndre Kane to just four points on 2-of-10 shooting.
“That was a really good effort by our team,” Wright said. “We knew coming in here that if we didn’t rebound the ball we were going to be in trouble. For them to only get three offensive rebounds was big. I was really proud of that effort.”
“They beat us with a little bit of our own medicine,” Marshall head coach Tom Herrion said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a team with only three offensive rebounds. That’s alarming, concerning…We didn’t get it done on the defensive end or the glass.”
Arcidiacono didn’t take long to put his talents on display, draining a trio of long threes and wowing the home fans–and several NBA scouts–with a no-look, behind-the-back pass in traffic before the second media timeout. After canning his second triple, an arching shot that rattled around the rim and straight up before dropping delicately through the net, the freshman phenom turned to his bench and gave a confident head bob, grinning from ear to ear. He wasn’t perfect, committing three turnovers and forcing the issue on a few first-half possessions. But for a 18-year-old playing in his second collegiate game, he was pretty close.
“He’s a really good shooter,” Herrion said. “He plays with a bit of a swagger and obviously a great level of confidence.”
Despite the exploits of the highly-touted Neshaminy product, it took the Wildcats some time to begin to pull away from the big-bodied Thundering Herd in the first half. After Scarver banked in a hanging runner and splashed a three from the right corner on consecutive possessions, Marshall pulled even at 17 apiece. That’s when Hilliard took over.
The sophomore shooting guard scored the next six points in a 10-1 run that put the Wildcats up by nine with eight minutes remaining in the half. Hilliard converted a floater in the lane, then finished with a two-handed slam after a steal and a beautiful left-handed pass from Arcidiacono in transition. The freshman found him again on the next possession, Hilliard burying a mid-range jumper from the left elbow to put the Wildcats up by six.
Marshall didn’t lay down, pulling to within 30-28 on a transition layup by Kane with 4:45 to go in the half. Predictably, Arcidiacono was there to quell the uprising. The freshman scored the next 11 Villanova points, starting with his fourth three-pointer and a tough layup in traffic on the Wildcats’ next two possessions. He sank all six of his free-throw attempts in the final three minutes of the first half, keeping the Thundering Herd at bay and helping Villanova take a 43-35 lead into the break.
When asked if he expected this kind of performance from Arcidiacono in his second collegiate start, Wright was quick with his answer.
“I did after his junior year,” he said. “No doubt.”
No doubt Villanova fans believe the hype now.