After slow start, No. 1 Villanova KOs Mount St. Mary's
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Villanova fitted Mount St. Mary's for the rarest of Cinderella slippers before beginning its national title defense in earnest.
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The 16th-seeded Mountaineers held the NCAA Tournament's No. 1 overall seed scoreless for the first 10 possessions and teased the ultimate upset until the Wildcats woke up late in the first half and pulled away for a 76-56 victory in a first-round game Thursday night.
Villanova will play Wisconsin on Saturday. Wisconsin, the 8 seed in the East Region, beat Virginia Tech 84-74 on Thursday.
Villanova coach Jay Wright couldn't explain why his team came out flat at the start, alternating air balls and turnovers while a captivated crowd at KeyBank Center began wondering if history was about to be made.
"I'm in a little bit of shock myself," Wright said. "I honestly don't have an answer. If I came up with something, I would be BS'ing you."
The Mountaineers weren't able to build on the early momentum, and the Wildcats clawed out of their early 10-2 hole to take a 30-29 lead by halftime. In the second half, Villanova shot 63 percent, compiling 16 layups and dunks.
No. 16 seeds are now 0-126 against No. 1s in the NCAA Tournament.
"The distance between a 1 and 16, as you saw tonight, is closing down," Mount St. Mary's coach Jamion Christian said. "It didn't happen here tonight. It might not happen here in this tournament, but I'd like to think we're starting a trend with what we did there in the first half."
Donte DiVincenzo came off the bench to lead Villanova (32-3) with 21 points and a career-high 13 rebounds. The redshirt freshman scored the Wildcats' first points on a jump hook 6:06 into the game.
"My job off the bench is just to bring energy, focus on defending and rebounding," DiVincenzo said. "The offense came tonight after just pushing it on defense, after getting a rebound."
Jalen Brunson added 14 points for Villanova, Mikal Bridges scored 13, Josh Hart had 11 and Eric Paschall chipped in 10.
The loss snapped a five-game winning streak for the Mountaineers (20-16), who started the season 1-11 before going on to win 20 games for just the second time since the program joined the Division I ranks in 1988. Mount St. Mary's qualified for the NCAA Tournament by winning the Northeast Conference tournament, and the Mountaineers defeated New Orleans in a First Four game Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio.
Freshman Miles Wilson led Mount St. Mary's with 22 points and seven rebounds. Elijah Long had 10 points.
"I'm proud of my guys for coming out the first half like that," Long said, "but Villanova is a great team, so we couldn't let up. So we had to reset and try to do the same thing we did the first half in the second half, and unfortunately, that's not what we did."
After struggling at the start, Villanova opened the second half with a greater sense of urgency and used a 21-3 run early to take control of the game. Bridges made consecutive 3-pointers and Hart scored six of his points during the spurt that turned a one-point deficit into a 51-35 lead with 12:25 remaining.
The Wildcats led for just 46 seconds of the first half. They missed their first eight shots and were 5 of 21 before making 7 of 9 in the final seven minutes.
Kris Jenkins, who made the winning shot in last year's NCAA Tournament final, missed his first 10 attempts from the field but hit three free throws to tie the game at 18-18 with 5:44 left in the half. Jenkins then set up Paschall for a dunk that gave Villanova its first lead, 26-25.
Brunson scored 10 of his points in the first half and made a driving layup at the buzzer to put the Wildcats ahead heading into halftime. Hart sat for 11:23 of the first half after picking up his second foul.
Wilson led the Mountaineers in the first half with 13 points and five rebounds, exceeding his season averages (11.5 points, 3.8 rebounds) in both categories.
NOTES: Villanova is 11-1 all-time against Mount St. Mary's. The first 11 meetings were all on the Wildcats' home floor. The Mountaineers' lone win came in 1957. ... Mount St. Mary's has been a No. 16 seed in all five of its NCAA Tournament appearances. In their first three matchups against No. 1 seeds, the Mountaineers lost by an average of 36 points. All three of those teams (Kentucky in 1995, Michigan State in 1999, and North Carolina in 2008) advanced to the Final Four. ... Mount St. Mary's is 1-29 all-time against ranked opponents, including losses this season at West Virginia, Iowa State and Michigan. ... G Josh Hart moved into eighth place on Villanova's all-time single-season scoring list with 654 points, passing Michael Bradley, Howard Porter and Keith Herron during the game.