Lindsey Beakes (@LBeakesy)
On the first night of the 2012 2K Sports Classic benefitting the Wounded Warrior Project, Villanova’s student section was packed with students who have hope despite last season’s disappointing year. The chant, “he’s a freshman” was heard more than once during Villanova’s 78-58 home opener against UDC.
They were referring to Ryan Arcidiacono, with those chants coming during his 28 minutes of play. The 6-foot-3 freshman guard from Neshaminy High in Langhorne, Pa. had 11 points and four assists for the Wildcats, now 1-0 overall, after scoring just four points in last week’s exhibition win against Carleton.
“I feel like the first game against Carleton just really helped me out, I was trying to do too much,” he said afterwards. “I wasn’t relaxed. I wasn’t playing my game. Tonight I came out just a little bit more relaxed, knowing I have great guys on my team, they’re a good team. It’s surreal playing for Villanova, just been one of my dreams my whole life, it’s crazy it’s already here.”
The freshman–whose parents both attended Villanova–had a hot start, making two 3-pointers with a fast-break lay-up in between followed by a down low pass to senior Mouphtaou Yarou (2-for-6, nine points). His ability to find the big men by the basket came through in spurts.
“He’s been great all preseason, great since the day he walked on campus,” Villanova coach, Jay Wright said. “I think he’s got a lot more in him, he’s going to keep getting better. He’s a leader.”
Going into halftime, UDC was only five points behind the Wildcats after the energy of the new Villanova team subsided. During the first 20 minutes of play Villanova shot just over 39 percent from the field (11-28).
“We kind of got complacent but it’s just something we have to work on. Just keep grinding, keep going at them,” Arcidiacono said. “ We were up 15-2 and then they went on their little run and everything so we just tried to keep grinding. At halftime we were up 5, I think, so like I said the second half the start just really got us going.”
Senior Maurice Sutton (4-for-8, 12 points) was the team’s leading scorer and was responsible for the Wildcats largest lead of the game. He had two consecutive inside opportunities that brought the score to 54-37 with just over 12 minutes to play in the second half.
“I thought Mo did a great job for us off the bench. I thought (Achraf) Yacoubou did a great job for us off the bench,” Wright said. “I liked the way we started, that’s important, you got to come out with intensity. I liked the way we started the second half. We still have a lot of work to do.”
As one of two seniors follow the departure of lead scorers Maalik Wayns and Dominick Cheek, Sutton’s change-of-pace after halftime helped lead his team on that run in which they improved to 51 percent from the field (16-of-31).
“It’s just what we do. It’s our core values and we’re just getting back to that,” Sutton said. “I think we have great size and it definitely helps defensively and it makes us a better team defensively.”
Yacoubou (3-for-5, nine points) was a defensive help off the bench, as Wright said. There was also frontcourt improvement for the Wildcats in 6-foot-6 forward JayVaughn Pinkston who had 10 points (4-10) despite what looked like an injured wrist from a fall, and 6-foot-5 forward James Bell who had nine points (3-for-6). Villanova’s size in comparison to UDC was illustrated in the 41 rebounds total compared to just 29 from the Firebirds.
“We just kind of kept grinding, and I think our depth and our size over time did good. They’re a good team, obviously Jeff Ruland is an outstanding coach,” Wright said. “They can play with us for a while, and we’re a team that needs a lot of work. So over time I just think out depth and size, our physicality just wore them down. You could see when we got some of those transition baskets it was more offensively they were going to the glass kind of getting knocked to their feet and when they got knocked on their feet we were going the other way to the basket. I think it was size and depth.”
For a team that has had Final Four success so recently, coming off of such a rough season is not the usual for the Wildcats. With a somewhat rocky start to the 2012 season including sophomore Ty Johnson announcing his intent to transfer and a home opener with an all too familiar pattern of a lost lead, the Wildcats have no choice but to improve.
“Every experience we go through with this team is going to be good for us,” Wright said. “I do like the way we responded to that [UDC’s comeback]. I thought we started well. In the second half they had a couple loose balls a couple turnovers, but I’ll take it. First game, I’ll take it.”
Villanova hits the Pavilion next on Sunday to take on Marshall for the second game of the 2K Sports Classic. Tip off is set for 1 p.m.