BROOKLYN — In the end, UNC Asheville could have mixed up every type of zone imaginable, but Villanova was going to make their shots as they cruised to a 86-56 victory in the NCAA tournament at Barclays Center.
In the final 2:35 of the first half, the Wildcats made three of their seven first half three-pointers, solving the Bulldogs zone defense and taking a 40-26 lead into halftime, their largest of the game.
In the second half the Wildcats erased all chances for UNC Asheville with a 19-2 run. Daniel Ochefu scored 12 of his game-high 17 points in the second half as Villanova fed the 6’11” senior more aggressive out of the break.
“I was just trying to be aggressive, doing what my teammates expected me to do,” Ochefu said. “Their defensive plan was kind of tripping me up in the first half mentally, and I was making some of the wrong decisions. So coach got on me in the locker room in the huddles and responded and made the adjustments that we needed to; kicking the ball out to shooters like Ryan, Josh, guys cutting, and scoring when I couldn’t.”
Ryan Arcidiacono scored 14 points and dished out four assists. None were more crucial than in the first half when Arcidiacono found Jalen Brunson to drain a three-pointer at the top of the key to put Villanova up 37-26. The 6’3” senior then drained a three of his own on the next possession to close the half and put the Wildcats up 14.
“We were just catching and shooting, being aggressive against their zone,” Arcidiacono said. “I think their 1-3-1, they are really aggressive on it and you can’t be very passive, you have to attack it look for your open shots.”
“I think we were able to get in the lane and take out for a couple open threes, and just ran a good play at the end of the half that we run every single day with like 4.9 seconds. So we were just aggressive against the zone.”
After getting off to a 10-2 run to start the game, the Bulldogs closed the gap to as close as two when Dylan Smith sank a three-pointer from the right wing. The freshman Smith led UNC Asheville with 14 points and five assists.
However from there, Villanova managed to break down the Bulldogs zone pressure scheme with ball movement and began to make shots. For the game, the Wildcats made 57.9% of their field goals, including 72% of them in the second half, but the game was lost at the end of the first half when the Bulldogs were put away by the second seeded Wildcats.
“Villanova cranked it up the last three minutes,” Dwayne Sutton, who had 11 points, said. “They started pressuring us and got some turnovers, which led to easy threes by Ryan [Arcidiacono] in the final minutes. That led to momentum going into halftime. They came out quick to hustle in the second half and just kind of threw us off.”
Despite the loss, there is plenty of reason for optimism for the Bulldogs, who finished with their first 20-win season since the 2011-12 season. They have one of the youngest rosters in the country, 319th in experience according to KenPom, and started only one senior (Sam Hughes, 10 points) on Friday.
“I think we can come back next year. We’ve got a young team willing to learn. Probably take a few days off and get back to work,” Sutton said. “But, yeah, it’s been a great season for us. I came in not really experienced, but my coaches instilled some confidence in me, and it kind of worked. I’m just happy to be here. Next year, hopefully, I’ll be back here.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.