By Mary Cunningham
Call them the rookie and the senior.
Or the oldest and the newest.
Whatever you call them, Jalen Brunson (above) and Ryan Arcidiacono made a splash last night.
Freshman Brunson had 12 points and four assists in his debut, and senior Arcidiacono added 12 points as No. 11 Villanova opened with a 91-54 victory over Fairleigh Dickinson on Friday night.
“It’s one thing to make our players better and it’s one thing to be a great scorer and be aggressive,” coach Jay Wright said, “but to have a guy (Arcidiacono) who can do both and now to have two guys who can do both. … It’s pretty cool.”
Brunson, from Lincolnshire, Illinois, took over the starting point guard spot from Arcidiacono, who is the reigning co-Big East Player of the Year.
Brunson showed why Wright put the freshman in the starting lineup, displaying deft passing, excellent long-range shooting and an ability to finish from close range. He was 4 of 6 from the field, including 2 for 4 from 3-point range.
“I like that he knows how to make people better and still be aggressive offensively,” Wright said.
Wright downplayed the change in role for Arcidiacono.
“We don’t refer to them as point guards,” Wright said. “We just refer to them as Villanova guards.”
Arcidiacono and Brunson, roommates on the road, have developed an on-court chemistry that begins away from the hardwood.
“We try to be on the same page all of the time,” Brunson said. “On the court we trust each other.”
Daniel Ochefu had 16 points and 10 rebounds and Kris Jenkins contributed 14 points for the Wildcats, who scored the first nine points and never were threatened.
“Villanova is going to do that to a lot of teams if they play like they did tonight,” Fairleigh Dickinson coach Greg Herenda said. “They have good players that play the right way.”
Darian Anderson scored 21 points for the Knights.
Brunson had a team-high nine first-half points to lead the Wildcats in a dominant opening 20 minutes. Brunson’s floating layup with 2 seconds remaining before intermission gave Villanova its biggest lead, 50-22.
The Wildcats cruised in the second half and led by 41 points on Jenkins’ 3-pointer that made it 80-39 with 7:24 remaining. Villanova’s advantage grew to as many as 44 points after halftime.
“I liked the way we started,” Wright said. “I like that we kept our intensity.”