The number one team in the nation visited Long Island Friday night and delivered local fans an early Christmas present.
Villanova dismantled Hofstra 95-71 at Nassau Coliseum behind 20 points and a career-high five assists from Mikal Bridges in coach Jay Wright’s first game against his former team. The Wildcats asserted control midway through the first half, riding a 12-0 run to a 29-16 lead with 9:18 left in the frame.
Even with Villanova seemingly headed to halftime with an 18-point lead, no second is wasted in a Jay Wright offense. With 1.2 seconds on the clock, the Wildcats’ coach drew up an inbound play that found its way to Phil Booth just beyond the arc. Booth rose and buried the shot to put Villanova up 52-31 at the break.
“You can practice that stuff all you want, but doing it in a game against a good team and a good coach, that’s when it really matters,” Wright said of that possession. “That one possession is way more valuable than any practice is. Donte DiVincenzo made a great decision. We were actually running to Omari Spellman at the rim, and if that wasn’t open, Phil was like the third option. Donte made a great look.”
It was Booth’s second three-pointer in the final 12 seconds of the opening half. The redshirt junior finished with 17 points on 6-8 shooting with a 4-5 mark from downtown.
Villanova pulled away to lead by as many as 28 late in the second half before emptying the bench in favor of the reserves inside the final two minutes.
Although Nassau Coliseum sits literally across the street from Hofstra’s campus, Villanova was the designated home team for this “visit.” Along with the designation, Villanova received the benefits of its logo at center court, its home PA announcer, and even its hype video during the announcement of its starting lineup.
“Yeah, we could’ve walked here and all we saw was Villanova stuff flashing around and their highlight tape beforehand,” Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich quipped afterward. “It was a little weird, but we’ve been better on the road this year than at home anyway.”
The return to Long Island to face his former squad led to some emotional moments for Wright leading up to Friday’s game.
“We’re usually really focused, I’m really focused and I tried to be, but coming back here there’s just so many great feelings and emotions,” Wright said. “Joe Mihalich and I spoke to the Hofstra alumni before the game. I would never do that anywhere, but it was important to do it, because this is a great place.”
The decision to finally play Hofstra after being removed from the program for 16 years did not come lightly to Wright. Always remaining selfless, the Wildcats’ coach remained appreciative yet conflicted over facing the program that gave him his head coaching start.
“I would never take Villanova to play Hofstra for me,” Wright said. “Hofstra worked their schedule to be able to play this game. Villanova isn’t my team; it’s not my school. I just work for them, so it’s not my right to take them to a place I love. It worked out for me and I’m thrilled we were able to do it.”
Three other Wildcats joined Booth and Bridges in double figures. Redshirt freshman Omari Spellman completed his third double-double of the season with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Donte DiVincenzo poured in 16 while Jalen Brunson added 14 points along with a season-high seven assists.
Justin Wright-Foreman led the attack for Hofstra, capping the night with a game-high 25 points. Rokas Gustys joined Wright-Foreman in double figures with 11 points along with eight rebounds.
Villanova connected on 16 3-pointers for the evening, the third such occasion this season. They previously knocked down 16 against Lafayette and connected on a season-high 19 at Saint Joseph’s earlier this month.
“We came out and were closing out to them with a high hand and they were still making the shot,” Wright-Foreman said of Villanova. “It was just like jeez what else can we do? Defensive-wise they’re really good as well. They communicate perfectly.”
Hofstra now concludes its non-conference slate with a 7-5 record. The Pride begin CAA play next Saturday with a trip to William & Mary followed by a visit to Northeastern after the new year.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.