There appeared to be just as many Eagles jersey as there were Villanova colors in the crowd of 16,115 that turned up Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center before the main event, and the top-ranked Wildcats gave the spectators a reason to forget about the city’s NFL team if only for a couple of hours.
It wasn’t a breeze against upset-minded Seton Hall but the Cats prevailed with the help of redshirt freshman Omari Spellman, who knocked down six three-point baskets, scored 26 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked three shots in a 92-76 Big East victory, their ninth consecutive win.
Villanova (22-1, 9-1 Big East) was challenged for a little more than 30 minutes by the Pirates (17-6, 6-4), leading by only two points with 9 minutes, 44 seconds to play, but rode Spellman’s accuracy from deep and his play under the boards against the Pirates’ Angel Delgado to put the game away.
The 6-foot-9, 255-pound Spellman, who missed just one three-point shot and finished 9 of 12 from the field overall, did a fine job of neutralizing the 6-10 Delgado, the nation’s second-leading rebounder, who had 18 points and nine rebounds.
“I think Delgado, because he’s a senior, is one of the most intelligent big men in the country,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “So when you go against a young guy who’s excited to play against you, you can take advantage of his inexperience.
“I thought Omari played like a veteran. He stayed on his feet, didn’t foul him, worked hard to get position. I just thought he really played intelligently.”
Spellman said he did not consider his matchup with Delgado to be a personal challenge.
“No, I just wanted to play as hard as I could for my teammates and coaches and just try to get a win,” he said.
Spellman, who sat out last year as an academic redshirt, scored 15 points as the Wildcats took a 41-37 lead at halftime. After the Pirates went on an 11-2 run early in the second half to regain the lead, Jalen Brunson hit a three-pointer with 15:23 remaining to give the Cats a 51-48 advantage – the 15th and final lead change of the day.
Still, the game was far from over. Myles Powell hit a pair of threes to rally Seton Hall to within 62-60 at the 9:44 mark. The Pirates weren’t going away.
Spellman, however, stepped back and drained a pair of three-point shots on Villanova’s next three possessions, touching off a seven-minute stretch that saw his team outscore the visitors, 28-9. His final trey of the game sparked a 12-0 run that made it 90-69 with 2:22 remaining.
“I think that’s just a testament to how great my teammates are,” Spellman said of the looks he got from deep. “You have to worry about Jalen, you have to worry about Mikal (Bridges) … you have to worry about everybody. Sometimes they just pick me.”
The Wildcats again sported balanced scoring. Brunson added 21 points and six assists. Bridges scored 17 points. Donte DiVincenzo’s line read 13 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, three steals.
The team shot 54.8 percent from the field in the second half – 7 of 14 from beyond the arc – and 50.8 percent for the game. Villanova won the rebounding battle, 36-31.