VILLANOVA, Pa. — Coach Jay Wright posted his 400th career win and his Villanova Wildcats kept rolling, forcing 15 turnovers in arguably their best defensive game of the season en route to a 70-53 victory over the Seton Hall Pirates on Friday night.
“It’s very humbling and I just feel very fortunate to be able to coach at Villanova,” Wright said of the milestone win. “Whoever coaches at Villanova is going to get a lot of wins.”
Senior guard James Bell led four Wildcats in double figures with a game-high 20 points, making 4 of 7 shots from beyond the 3-point arc and collecting six rebounds. Junior guard Darrun Hilliard pitched in 10 points and four rebounds.
The major difference-makers were in the Villanova frontcourt. Sophomore center Daniel Ochefu posted an impressive all-around stat line of 10 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high six assists. Junior forward JayVaughn Pinkston scored 19 points on 9 of 11 shooting and grabbed six rebounds. The two were the primary reasons that Villanova dominated the paint to a 36-24 point advantage
“I’ll tell you what, Ochefu is probably as improved of a player in the league as anybody,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. “Pinkston’s been that way for the last two years. I think that’s what’s taken this team over the edge is the fact that you don’t have an out. You can’t zone out off somebody, you can’t cheat off somebody, because if you do they’re going to burn you.”
For the 6-foot-11 Ochefu, it was his first career double-double in a career that keeps getting better. Ochefu’s offensive game has started to develop after being known mostly as an interior defender. He’s posted 10 assists in Villanova’s last two games.
“It feels good,” Ochefu said of his improvement. “(Wright) always talks to us about being the best team we can be at the end of the season. For me to just keep getting better is helping the team, and helping us get to that goal.”
Villanova (21-2, 9-1 Big East) got off to a slow start. The Wildcats opened the first-half making just 2 of 10 shots from the field, including 0 of 6 from beyond the arc.
The poor shooting combined with sloppy ball-handling allowed Seton Hall to get out to an early lead behind the play of senior forward Fuquan Edwin, who scored eight of the Pirates’ first 10 points but was held scoreless the rest of the way.
Edwin, Seton Hall’s second-leading scorer, looked poised for a big night as the Wildcats got caught leaving him alone in transition.
“He got off to a good start and got us going,” Willard said. “I thought they did a good job of really shading to him. They switched out on screens on him and denied him a little bit.”
Once Villanova got it going, the Wildcats were too much for the Big East’s worst scoring defense to handle.
Back-to-back buckets from Ochefu, including a monster one-handed dunk, put Villanova ahead 27-25 with 3:02 to play in the first half — its first lead since 2-0. Shortly thereafter, a 3-pointer from guard James Bell gave Villanova a 32-26 lead and prompted Willard to call timeout.
“Early in the year, I wasn’t that confident because I didn’t think our defense was good enough to keep us in it when we weren’t scoring,” Wright said. “I think we’re starting to get there. We were missing a lot of shots but we were getting stops. I thought our defense kept us in it the first half.”
Bell finished the opening 20 minutes with 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field, including 2 of 2 from 3-point range to lead all scorers in the first half as Villanova closed the half on a 13-1 run to take a 34-26 lead into halftime.
Villanova opened the second half on a 17-10 run. A 3-pointer from guard Dylan Ennis gave Villanova a 15-point lead at 51-36 with 11:47 to go in the second half. Five minutes later, a Pinkston layup put the Wildcats ahead 60-40, capping off a 39-17 run.
The Wildcats rallied to finish 28 of 55 from the field (51 percent) after the dismal start. Seton Hall was 20 of 46 for 43 percent.
Seton Hall (13-19, 4-6) was paced
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