Although Villanova is among the favorites for the Big East title, coach Jay Wright knows the early season could prove rough at times because of the inexperience of some of his players.
After stumbling through the first half of its opener, fifth-ranked Villanova will look for a smoother performance Monday night as it tries to win its seventh straight over visiting Penn.
The Wildcats (1-0) shot 32 percent in the first half against Farleigh Dickinson on Friday and led by one after 20 minutes. They were much better in the second half, scoring 49 points and shooting 48 percent for an 81-64 victory.
Wright returns four starters from last season’s Final Four squad - Scottie Reynolds, Corey Stokes, Corey Fisher and Antonio Pena. However, six other players made their debut with the program Friday.
Freshman Mouphtaou Yarou started at forward, while Maalik Wayns, Dominic Cheek, Maurice Sutton and Isaiah Armwood also played in their first college game. Taylor King had nine points and seven rebounds in his first action since transferring from Duke.
“All this hype, all this hype, and I’ve been waiting for this moment so everyone could see it,” Wright said. “When everyone sees how young we are, how inexperienced we are, I think it’ll temper expectations a little bit. But I think we can be good. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but I think we can be a good team by the end of the year.”
Stokes had 20 points and hit five 3-pointers, Fisher added 13 points and Pena chipped in nine points and a team-leading 10 rebounds.
Reynolds struggled, finishing with eight points on 2-of-10 shooting.
“Fish and Stokes hadn’t been in a position where they had to take over in the second half,” Wright said of his junior guards. “That is the best thing we can take away from this game.”
Penn (0-1) returns leading scorer Tyler Bernardini (13.7 points per game) and top rebounder Jack Eggleston (5.9), but that didn’t help much in a 70-55 loss at Penn State on Friday night.
Bernardini scored the Quakers’ first 10 points but finished with 12. Eggleston went 5 of 6 from the floor en route to 13 points, and Zack Rosen added eight points and seven rebounds.
Bernardini was one of two Quakers in double figures with 12 points in last season’s 69-47 loss to Villanova at the Palestra on Dec. 2. The Wildcats held Penn to 32.7 percent shooting and got 14 points from Stokes.
Villanova leads the series with Penn 38-18. The Wildcats’ last loss to the Quakers came in 2002.