By Mary Cunningham
Eric Paschall scored 26 points and Phil Booth 17 as No. 9 Villanova opened its national championship defense with a 100-77 win over Morgan State at its refurbished Finneran Pavilion..
“I feel like we have great potential,” Paschall said.
Villanova’s on-campus court underwent a $65 million facelift.
Under Jay Wright, Villanova has won two of the last three national championships, and seating for this season is at a premium.
“Man, it was loud, it was jumping the whole time,” Wright said. “I thought the crowd was great. There’s a different vibe in here. It’s definitely louder. It’s pretty cool.”
The Pavilion’s courtside press row seating was stripped to make room for 88 courtside seats, there was club seating for the first time and the concourse also wrapped 360 degrees. The lights were dimmed for an NBA-worthy lineup introduction — kind of a big deal considering in the old joint derisively known as the “ski lodge,” it took 20 minutes for the entire building to light up once the switches were flipped.
Artificial noise was pumped in and fans were encouraged to stand until the Wildcats scored their first basket. It didn’t take long. Collin Gillespie hit a 3 and the Wildcats hit from long range much like they did against Michigan in the title game in San Antonio, Texas.
They just didn’t look like the same Wildcats.
AP Player of the Year Jalen Brunson plays for the Dallas Mavericks. Omari Spellman is with the Atlanta Hawks. Mikal Bridges landed in Phoenix after a draft-night trade with the 76ers, and Donte DiVincenzo — who scored 31 points in the title game win over Michigan — is with the Milwaukee Bucks. o has two national championships, and four freshmen on the court.
“We actually weren’t trying the lineups. We were trying for fresh bodies,” Wright said.
Saddiq Bey, one of those freshman, hit 3s on his first two shots and scored 16 points. Jahvon Quinerly buried a 3 for his only bucket.
Paschall made his first six baskets and scored 19 points in the first half. Paschall and Booth showed the veterans will lead the Wildcats early will the underclassmen find their way.
“We have to listen to the old guys like Eric and Phil,” Bey said.