PHILADELPHIA (AP) — As James Bell and JayVaughn Pinkston walked into the media room at the Pavilion, they studied a copy of the box score and laughed.
They had a lot to be happy about.
Bell scored a career-high 24 points and Pinkston added 22 points as Villanova overcame a cold shooting night and rallied from a second-half deficit to defeat Lafayette 75-59 in its season opener Friday.
“We’re just comfortable with each other,” said Bell, one of three seniors on the Wildcats. “We know in any situation what to do. We’re not always looking to Coach. We know how to fight in situations like that.”
Seth Hinrichs scored a team-high 15 points for Lafayette, which led by as many as six in the second half. The Leopards, picked to finish second in the Patriot League, also got 13 points from Joey Ptasinski and 11 from Bryce Scott.
Lafayette shot 11 for 24 from 3-point range, including a couple of difficult ones at the end of the shot clock.
“After a game like that’s over and you win, that’s a great game to start with,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “You really get tested. They are a very, very well-coached team. We were not surprised at all.”
Villanova, which returns four starters from a team that last year went 20-14 and reached the NCAA tournament for the eighth time in the last nine seasons, shot 38.9 percent from the field and just 16.7 percent from 3-point range.
But the Wildcats made a few timely buckets, got to the free throw line and began to control the paint to close the game on a 28-12 run and coast to the victory.
“We just had bigger athletes,” Wright said. “It does wear you down.”
No one was bigger inside than Pinkstson, who poured in 14 of his 22 points in the second half, including eight straight at one juncture.
When asked if he tried to assert himself after the halftime break, Pinkston shook his head and claimed he was simply “at the right spot at the right time.” That drew some playful ribbing from Wright, who turned to the soft-spoken junior forward and offered a friendly reminder.
“I said post up and you posted up,” Wright told him. “You asserted yourself. I’ll answer yes for him. He did a great job in the second half.”
While Pinkston finished things for the Wildcats, it was Bell who got the season off to the right start. The senior swingman scored Villanova’s first 13 points, a stretch that began with two 3-pointers and was capped by a one-handed alley-oop off a feed from Darrun Hilliard.
“I got open shots and I made them,” said Bell, who also finished with nine rebounds. “My teammates put me in good positions.”
Aside from Bell’s early onslaught, the Wildcats failed to generate much consistent offense in the first half, misfiring on 15 of the 18 3-point shots they attempted to limp into halftime with a tenuous 29-27 lead. And consecutive 3-pointers from Ptasinksi, Hinrichs and Zach Rufer gave Lafayette a 38-32 advantage four minutes into the second half.
But much to the delight of their home fans, the Wildcats clawed their way back into the contest, taking a 50-47 lead on a 3-pointer from Bell with 7:27 left in the game and extending their lead to 56-49 on a 3 from Hilliard, who finished with 13 points and seven assists.
Point guard Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova’s freshman sensation in 2012-13, didn’t score until he made a twisting layup with 1:49 remaining in the contest while getting fouled. The sophomore’s three-point play gave Villanova a 66-56 lead and pretty much iced the game.
Lafayette freshman Nick Lindner, a native of nearby Doylestown, got the start at point guard in his collegiate debut, logging eight points and seven assists.
“We know Villanova’s a really solid team,” said Hinrichs, Lafayette’s leading scorer from a year ago. “Just hanging in with them for most of the game, we know our potential. Now we just have to progress.”
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