VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) — Towson came into Sunday’s game against Villanova riding a three-game winning streak to open the season, marking the program’s best start since 1972.
But the Tigers hadn’t yet seen a defense like Villanova’s.
Riding an effective press that rattled their visitors from the opening tip, the Wildcats continued their hot start to the season with a 78-44 rout of turnover-prone Towson on Sunday.
James Bell led the way with 20 points for Villanova (3-0), which forced the Tigers into 24 turnovers, turning those miscues into 27 points.
The game was part of the Battle 4 Atlantis, which stretches out over the rest of the month.
“It was really something we hadn’t seen this year,” said Towson senior guard Mike Burwell, who committed four of his team’s 24 turnovers. “You can’t do that in practice. You can’t find guys to do what they did out there. It was just different.”
Ryan Arcidiacono and JayVaughn Pinkston each scored 12 points for Villanova, which has outscored its opponents by an average of 27 points per game so far this season. Darrun Hilliard added 10 points and center Daniel Ochefu had eight points and four blocks, while playing suffocating defense on Jerrelle Benimon.
Benimon, the reigning Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year, had 11 points to lead Towson (3-1), the preseason favorite to win the CAA. But nobody else on the Tigers scored in double figures and starting point guard Jerome Hairston battled serious foul trouble, logging just two points in 22 minutes.
Before Sunday, Towson had won 11 of its last 12 games dating back to last season, which included Thursday’s come-from-behind victory over Temple, one of Villanova’s longtime rivals.
The Wildcats were paying attention.
“We were sitting at home, watching that game on TV and talking to each other,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “We were pretty fired up to play against them. They looked really good. I think that helped us.”
Towson certainly didn’t look like the same team that erased an eight-point second-half deficit to defeat Temple three days earlier.
Against the pressing Wildcats, the Tigers averaged more than a turnover per minute for most of the first half and at halftime had nearly as many turnovers (18) as points (20). The Tigers had been averaging just 12 turnovers per game coming into Sunday’s contest.
“That’s the definition of a loss,” Burwell said. “You turn the ball over 18 times in the first half and nine out of ten times you’re going to lose.”
Villanova jumped all over the Tigers early, opening up a quick 14-2 lead with everyone in their starting lineup scoring. After just seven minutes, Towson had already committed 11 turnovers as Villanova led 18-4. And by the time the first half ended, Villanova held a commanding 42-20 lead, its largest of the game.
“When they get into a half court set, as well saw in the Temple game, they’re very good,” Wright said. “We didn’t want them to get into the half court set.”
Things didn’t get much better after the break for the Tigers, who threw the ball into the stands twice in the opening minutes of the second half. And, highlighted by a crowd-rocking putback slam from Bell, the Wildcats put the game away for good with a 9-0 run that gave them a 57-24 lead with 12 minutes left.
“At halftime, Coach told me I didn’t have any offensive rebounds,” Bell said of his dunk. “He told me to make sure I’m going to the offensive glass and to make sure I’m crashing it. I had an opportunity to have an offensive rebound and I just finished it.”
Bell, who struggled with his consistency over his first three years at Villanova, is averaging 18.7 points per game so far this season. And he’s one big reason why the Wildcats have yet to be tested through their first three games.
“He’s a Villanova senior,” Wright said. “Guys that are seniors in this program are ready to be leaders and great players. That’s what he is.”
NOTES: Towson shot 17 for 55 from the field, 2 for 17 from 3-point range and 8 for 19 from the free throw line. . The road doesn’t get any easier for the Tigers, who visit No. 5 Kansas on Friday. . Villanova hosts Delaware on Friday, before continuing play in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas over Thanksgiving weekend.
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