By Harry Allison
Villanova buried whatever first-round March Madness jitters it was supposed to have had, and the second-seeded Wildcats used their trademark 3-point shooting and staunch defense to roll to a 86-56 victory over North Carolina-Asheville at Barclays Center.
The Wildcats, who haven’t made it out of the first weekend of March Madness since 2009, got off to a solid start but let the Bulldogs hang around for most of the first half. The UNC Asheville defense slowed down Villanova, and a flurry of 3-pointers had the Wildcat lead down to two points with 4:21 before the break. That’s when the Big East power broke off a 16-4 run to end the half.
Villanova eventually ran away with it in the second half, and its size advantage became more and more apparent as forward Daniel Ochefu started to do damage on the interior, scoring 12 of his 17 points after halftime to make sure the Wildcats maintained control.
Villanova got solid scoring performances across the board, but it was Ochefu who ended up leading the squad with 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting along with 10 rebounds, four rebounds and three blocks. The Big South champion Bulldogs had no one who could check the senior big man, and he showed no signs of being slowed by a recent ankle injury.
Ryan Arcidiacono (above) had a pair of 3-pointers during Villanova’s 16-4 stretch at the end of the first half, including a buzzer-beater from beyond the arc that gave the Wildcats even more momentum heading to halftime. The senior guard finished with 14 points as he went 4-for-6 from 3-point range points and four assists.
Dylan Smith paced UNC Asheville with 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc, helping the Bulldogs keep pace with Villanova in the first half.