by Ryan Irwin
Last Friday was a coming out party of sorts for freshman point guard Ryan Arcidiacano, who scored a game-high 25 points and led Villanova over the Marshall Thundering Herd 80-68 in the 2nd round of the 2K Sports Classic at the Pavilion.
For a team that underachieved and disappointed for two straight years, this Villanova squad must be a breath of fresh air for fans and students alike. From the first three games of this young season, the defense has been scrappy and persistent and the recruits have been better than advertised.
Arcidiacano is a budding star, scoring 20 points in the first half alone to set the tone against a large, aggressive Marshall squad. Head Coach Jay Wright’s prized recruit dished out six assists and ran an offense that seemed to get a bit stagnant when he was off the floor.
The Marshall team that Villanova faced in the second round of the 2K Sports Classic had the size and strength of a Big East squad, so it was a relatively good test of the Wildcats’ ability to deal with an opponent boasting considerable size and strength.
In the first half, the offense was firing on all cylinders, with the team shooting at a 56.5 percent clip and went into the locker room at the half up by a score of 43-35. Coming out of the intermission, Arcidiacano was slowed until the last few minutes of the game, scoring only five points in the second half. Even though he wasn’t affecting the game on the scoreboard, he found a way to facilitate the offense through his passing.
With four minutes left in the game, Marshall managed to close the Wildcats’ lead to two, a situation that Villanova teams of the past may have surrendered. However, junior guard James Bell answered with a clutch three-pointer, extending the lead back to five. Wright believes this was an important teaching moment, regardless of the outcome.
Wright said, “Arch hasn’t been in a game like that. I was just watching to see what happens,” Wright said. “When they got it to two, either they are going to take the lead and see if we have the guts to fight through it, or fight through it now and see what happens.”
Three-point shooting still seems to be a bit of a sore spot for Wright’s team, who shot a sparse 9-for-22 from beyond the arc, a 40 percent clip. Marshall was almost the exact opposite, hitting 12-for-27 and 44 percent, single-handedly allowing them to stay in the game.
Villanova seemed to have almost no answer for Marshall’s leading scorer, D.D. Scarver, who was 5-for-7 on three-point shooting attempts and finished with 22 points and three assists. Elijah Pittman came off of the bench and scored 12 points off three long balls and a field goal.
Turnovers were a problem for the ’Cats all day long, as they have been all season. The ball handling was sloppy when the ball was not in Arch’s hands, and even sometimes when it was. There were a couple of possessions when big men tried to pass down low, only for it to be stolen on the entry pass.
In the end, Villanova finished with 17 turnovers to just 14 assists, a ratio they sorely need to improve significantly to be successful in the Big East. The team also didn’t seem to be ready on many inside passes that could have easily converted to wide open dunks.
Size continues to be a big factor for Villanova as the team outrebounded Marshall by a 37-23 margin. Redshirt sophomore forward JayVaughn Pinkston inhaled rebounds and was the leading rebounder on a team that has a lot of size, finishing with seven total—five of them being offensive boards.
All players produced significant scoring in this game, which they hadn’t done in the past, including a pickup in production when Arcidiacano went cold. Bell finished the game with 19 points and four rebounds.
“I never feel like I have to score—my teammates put me in a good position,” Bell said about his uptick in production in the second half. “Everybody knows their role, everybody plays to their strength and I played to my strengths. When you catch it in rhythm, its effortless.”
Wright overflowed with praise about Ryan Arcidiacano.
Wright said, “I expected this [level of production from Arcidiacono], no doubt, after his junior year. After he got hurt, I didn’t know if he’d play again. He has a very high basketball IQ.”
“I think Ryan came in from day one, knowing what we wanted to do,” Wright continued. “He was here every day last year, watching what we were doing, seeing the intensity of every possession.”
The 2K Sports Classic rolls on with the ’Cats taking on Purdue on Thursday at 9:30 p.m. at Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y.