By John Fanta
PHILADELPHIA — The Seton Hall – Villanova rivalry has offered some of the BIG EAST’s best battles since the conference reconfigured in 2013.
With most of the same names back for this season, Sunday’s first meeting of the 2017-18 campaign planned to be no different. What was different, though, was the freshman monster who was the star of the game in a 82-76 Villanova win.
Seton Hall got their first introduction to Omari Spellman, who powered the ‘Cats with 26 points on 9/12 from the field, including 6-of-7 from three-point land, to go with 11 rebounds.
“He made a lot of shots I didn’t expect,” said Pirate center Angel Delgado. “I have a lot of respect for him.”
That respect was certainly gained on Sunday. While Spellman’s averaging 10 points and seven boards on the season, his impact has come off as much bigger than that in this version of Villanova. And that can be heard from his coach, Jay Wright.
When the 17th-year head coach was asked if he ever had a post player like Spellman, he defiantly uttered “no.”
While simply put, that answer says it all. Spellman’s role is invaluable on a Villanova team that is loaded with guards and wings. Just as Daniel Ochefu gave the national championship team the interior presence in 2015-16, Spellman does that and even more with his outside game.
As for the game itself, Seton Hall came out punching with an 11-4 lead in the first minutes. Villanova answered behind Spellman, who scored 15 points in the opening stanza to help the Wildcats lead 41-37 at the break. Delgado, who finished with 18 points and nine boards, compiled 10 points in the first half.
The turning point? A fourth foul on Khadeen Carrington with 13:21 left. With Seton Hall thin at point guard, the Wildcats took more control and opened up an eight-point lead before the senior returned with just over seven minutes on the clock.
“To lose your point guard like that for a solid six minutes hurts you offensively and defensively,” said Kevin Willard after the game.
Still, it was 62-60 Villanova with 9:43 left. The final 10 minutes, though, saw the Cats outscore the Pirates 30-16.
“I think we can do some things better against them,” Willard said when asked about if his team could do much more than what they did in the first 30 minutes. “We’ll get another shot at them in three and a half weeks.” The next match-up between the two is slated for February 28 in primetime at The Rock.
Beyond Spellman, Villanova’s balanced offensive train rolled on. Five scored in double-figures. Despite a scoreless first 10 minutes, Jalen Brunson finished with 21 points and six assists.
It begs the question – Even with the injured Phil Booth down, is this Villanova team a machine? I asked Jay Wright.
“It’s really a tribute to the talent we have on this team. We know Omari (Spellman) and can play like this. We just didn’t need them to because we had Phil (Booth) going for us.”
Must be nice, huh? It’s fitting that the response comes from the head coach of the #1 team in the land. And while Seton Hall played well for 30 minutes, they saw how Villanova can beat a team in so many ways.
Up next for The Hall is Marquette, who has dropped four straight games. Villanova welcomes in St. John’s, who is fresh off an upset of #4 Duke. Both games tip at 7 PM ET Wednesday.