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VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) — Villanova started to head out for the second half toward its rehabilitated court when it somehow got lost in a maze of exits and sprinted out the wrong end.
“Everything’s a first,” coach Jay Wright said. “We’re figuring it out.”
The Wildcats will quickly get used to the intricacies of their digs.
They already seem quite at home, and as dominant as usual, at the new-look Pavilion.
Eric Paschall scored 26 points, Phil Booth had 17 and No. 9 Villanova opened its national championship defense with a 100-77 win over Morgan State on Tuesday night.
“I feel like we have great potential,” Paschall said.
The Wildcats always do — they’ve won 12 straight games dating to last season and won their 16th consecutive season opener.
The new kid on the block that shone the most was the refurbished Pavilion, which closed for a season and forced the Wildcats to play a year in Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center. Villanova’s on-campus court underwent a $65 million facelift that would have made the Property Brothers jealous.
The Wildcats couldn’t put a price tag on their sweetest accessory — the 2018 national championship banner raised high above midcourt. Under Wright, Villanova has won two of the last three national championships, and seating for this season is at a premium. StubHub had lower level tickets selling for $375 shortly before tip, and a gym that for three decades had a skeleton crew of concession stands suddenly had deep-pocketed donors noshing on fried shrimp, $10 Wildcat burgers and taking a nip of top-shelf booze.
“Man, it was loud, it was jumping the whole time,” Wright said. “I thought the crowd was great. There’s a different vibe in here. It’s definitely louder. It’s pretty cool.”
Bad news for the Big East, the Wildcats have more of a homecourt edge.
The Pavilion’s courtside press row seating was stripped to make room for 88 courtside seats, there was club seating for the first time and the concourse also wrapped 360 degrees. The lights were dimmed for an NBA-worthy lineup introduction — kind of a big deal considering in the old joint derisively known as the “ski lodge,” it took 20 minutes for the entire building to light up once the switches were flipped.
On opening night, the Pavilion was lit.
Artificial noise was pumped in and fans were encouraged to stand until the Wildcats scored their first basket. It didn’t take long. Collin Gillespie hit a 3 and the Wildcats hit from long range much like they did against Michigan in the title game in San Antonio, Texas.
They just didn’t look like the same Wildcats.
AP Player of the Year Jalen Brunson plays for the Dallas Mavericks. Omari Spellman is with the Atlanta Hawks. Mikal Bridges landed in Phoenix after a draft-night trade with the 76ers, and Donte DiVincenzo — who scored 31 points in the title game win over Michigan — is with the Milwaukee Bucks. That’s a ton of talent that walked out the door, but the Wildcats were eager to showcase the replacements. With the Wildcats up 15 in the first half, they had Booth, who has two national championships, and four freshmen on the court.
“We actually weren’t trying the lineups. We were trying for fresh bodies,” Wright said.
Saddiq Bey, one of those freshman, hit 3s on his first two shots and scored 16 points. Jahvon Quinerly buried a 3 for his only bucket.
Paschall made his first six baskets and scored 19 points in the first half. Paschall and Booth showed the veterans will lead the Wildcats early will the underclassmen find their way.
“We have to listen to the old guys like Eric and Phil,” Bey said.
Morgan State: Isaiah Burke led the Bears with 17 points. Morgan State took advantage of weak Villanova defense. The Bears started 12 of 24 from the floor and only trailed 54-43 at the break. They only trailed 64-57 with 12 minutes left in the second half before the Wildcats pull away. The Bears made only five 3s to 12 for Villanova.
Villanova: The rich get richer — on the court and, well, around it — and there’s little reason to think the Wildcats won’t again be in the national title picture.
Morgan State had more points in the paint (48-40), points off turnovers (22-10) and off the bench (45-36).
Morgan State stays in Pennsylvania with a game Friday at St. Francis.
Villanova has one more tune-up against Quinnipiac on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center before it has a national championship game rematch against Michigan.