Villanova has several new toys on and off the court, and they were all on display in Tuesday’s season-opening 100-77 victory.
The renovated Pavilion is officially called Finneran Pavilion. “The Finn,” which is printed on the signs behind the jumbotrons in the corner of the arena, has all the fancy features found in arenas in 2018.
The revamped, ninth-ranked Wildcats still have a handful of holdovers from last year’s national title team, and when Morgan State got within striking distance, the two senior leaders shooed away the Bears.
Eric Paschall had 26 points (7 for 11 shooting, 11 for 12 from the free-throw line) and seven rebounds, and Phil Booth had 17 points (7 for 13 shooting, 1 for 6 from 3).
The Wildcats, who never trailed, led by 15 early in the second half and saw the Bears get within seven before Joe Cremo, a grad transfer from Albany, rattled home a 3. Paschall then muscled through the paint for a bucket, and the lead remained in double-figures for the rest of the game.
Jermaine Samuels jumped over a Bear for a rebound and hit a nice reverse layup to put the Wildcats up 22, and the lead first hit the game-high of 23 on a free throw by Collin Gillespie.
Gillespie had six points, five rebounds and six assists.
If Villanova is going to make a deep tourney run (let’s not even mention a third national title in four years), Paschall, Booth and company will need some help.
Freshman Saddiq Bey, a 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward who landed in the Wildcats’ lap after initially committing to N.C. State, had 16 points, including three 3s, in 22 minutes.
“He defends and rebounds probably the best of the freshmen right now,” coach Jay Wright said. “We need to play defense and rebound to be out there.
“We love his versatility. Very similar to Eric. He can shoot 3s. He can put it on the floor. He can post up. And the same thing on the defensive end. He can guard guys in the post, on the perimeter. He’s a good rebounder. We love those kind of guys.
“We want him to be a complete player offensively. We want him to do everything. He handled the ball against the press one time, didn’t make a great decision, but he was aggressive, which we like.”
Highly touted freshman Jahvon Quinerly had three points on 1 for 4 shooting — all 3s.
Cremo was 3 for 5 from 3 and had 10 points.
After an and-1 by Paschall put the Wildcats up 11, Morgan State scored seven straight make it 26-22.
But Booth answered with eight points in a 10-0 run.
Villanova led by as many as 15 in the half, but the Bears got within six late before Booth hit a 3 and Paschall drove for a bucket in the final seconds to put the Wildcats up 54-43 at halftime.
Villanova in the first 20 minutes shot 62.1 percent — and 9 of 19 from 3 — but also had 10 turnovers.
“Our defense wasn’t that bad in the first half, but our offense was killing us on the defensive end,” Wright said. “Give them credit there — they were aggressive defensively. We’ll get better at that.”
Wright, who admitted his team got lost after leaving the locker room for the second half, on the new building:
“Great start for our building. … I love the old Pavilion, but man it was loud. It was jumping the whole time. There’s a different vibe in here. It’s definitely louder. Pretty cool.”
Wright on his rotations:
“We just wanted to keep fresh bodies. Right now, if certain guys are going well, we’re going to go with them. Obviously Phil and Collin and Eric — they’re experienced, so we’re going to go with them. But the rest of the guys, we’re going to just see who’s going well.”
Villanova faces Quinnipiac at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center.
Then the Wildcats play Michigan on Wednesday at the Pavilion, or The Finn, depending on who you ask.