Jordan Longino’s three-point attempt late in the first half was a sign of how things were going Monday night inside Finneran Pavilion for Villanova.
The clock was ticking in the first 20 minutes, and Lonchino, a sophomore forward, was wide open. If the ball hits the edge, it barely grazes.
Villanova, which fell out of the Associated Press Top 25 this week for the first time since February 2019, missed its first 17 three-point shots and struggled all night in visiting Delaware State, a team that entered Monday without a Division I win since March. 2021.
The shots finally started falling, but the result was an ugly 60-50 win, and after Friday night’s loss to Temple, the Wildcats are left with more questions than answers as they navigate the early part of the new season under a new coach. Kyle Neptune.
Villanova’s Eric Dixon led all scorers with 17 points while adding seven rebounds. Was 7-for-12 from the field. Brandon Slater joined him in double figures with 15 points (12 for 12 from the free throw line).
Kyrie Staten led a balanced Delaware scoring attack with 10 points.
» Read more: Temple fully earns its court after upset of Villanova … It was big
Villanova trailed the entire first half after scoring more than 35 points.
While Delaware State (1-2) found success around the basket on midrange jumpers, the Wildcats couldn’t put the ball in the basket.
The Wildcats missed all 16 of their shots from three-point range in the first half. It wasn’t like Friday night when Temple’s perimeter defense messed up. A large portion of those 16 attempts were open looks, with six coming from Wildcat shooters. Longino and Mark Armstrong had four each.
Had it not been for Dixon’s dominance inside and Villanova going 12-for-13 from the free-throw line, the 27-24 halftime score could have been worse. Eight Delaware State players made baskets in the first half. Villanova had only two players — Dixon and Longino — make a basket in the first 20 minutes.
“It’s basketball. It happens,” Neptune said. “I think all but one or two shots were good shots and we missed them. If we could take the same shots every game, we’d take those shots. Sometimes they don’t go in.”
“The main thing is that we held our defense and were able to force them into some tough shots and hold them down when we weren’t making shots.”
The streak of misses from beyond the arc stopped at 17 when Slater drilled a corner triple to cut Del State’s lead to 29-28 three minutes into the second half.
“I’m with these guys every day,” Dixon said. “They put up hundreds and hundreds of shots. I don’t think they ever lost confidence.
Villanova (2-1) got a big boost from its freshman guards Armstrong and Brendan Hausen. Armstrong’s drive to the rim and finish gave the Wildcats their first lead, 35-34. He then scored seven in a row for Villanova, including a three-pointer from the wing and a pull-up jumper on consecutive possessions to put Villanova up by four.
Howson made his shooting presence known. After sitting out the first half, Hausen scored seven crucial points in the middle minutes of the second half. Those minutes included two major three-pointers. The freshman drew some quiet jeers when he exited the game at one point with less than six minutes remaining, followed by loud cheers when he returned with 4 minutes, 12 seconds left.
“I’m proud of the way he played,” Neptune said of Howson. “He didn’t make it to the finals, and to his credit, a lot of guys would be mocking or blaming others or feeling sorry for themselves. He was ready to play, so kudos to him.
Even with everything starting to go Villanova’s way, Delaware State kept at it. Villanova’s biggest run came in crunch time, tying the game 7-0.
Villanova couldn’t get comfortable with Dixon’s corner three at 58-48 with 2:20 left.
Villanova finished on five of 27 attempts from three-point range.
How’s this for the Villanova team’s upcoming games?
The Wildcats travel to East Lansing for a game against Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans on Friday (8 p.m., FS1). Michigan State had the most votes of any team not in the AP Top 25 this week. Call the Spartans No. 26 (and Villanova No. 28).
Then, next week, Villanova spends Thanksgiving weekend in Portland at the PK Invitational. The Wildcats open that tournament on Thanksgiving Day against Iowa State at 3:30 (ESPN2). A win on Nov. 25 against current No. 1 North Carolina would mean.
Other teams in the PK Invitational include No. 18 Alabama; No. 25 UConn; Michigan State; Oregon; and Portland.