Three games into the season, No. 21 Villanova and Maryland already find themselves searching for answers.
Both programs would be thrilled to secure a victory Friday when the Wildcats host the Terrapins in the Gavitt Tipoff Games.
Villanova (2-1) posted comfortable wins in its first two games before falling to Penn, one of its Philadelphia Big 5 rivals, on Monday night. Following their 76-72 defeat, the Wildcats didn’t have much to smile about as they reflected on their performance.
The Wildcats shot just 34.9 percent from the floor and 27.3 percent from 3-point range.
“They forced us to take tough twos, contested threes,” said Justin Moore, who led the team with 25 points. “We got some shots we wanted, and they just didn’t fall. We just gotta get some stops.”
Now in his second season, coach Kyle Neptune concurred that the Wildcats’ defense — particularly their rebounding — was the biggest reason for the early-season upset. Villanova allowed Penn to shoot 51.1 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from long distance while getting outrebounded 38-35 by the Ivy League foe.
“You can’t rely on making or missing shots to be a good team,” Neptune said. “You’ve got to get stops, and you’ve got to get rebounds. Unfortunately, they did a better job than us tonight.”
Friday is an important early-season game for Villanova, with the program coming off a disappointing 17-17 season last year following two-time national champion coach Jay Wright’s retirement.
“We’ve got to go back, dust ourselves off, go back to practice and get better,” Neptune said.
Maryland (1-2), meanwhile, has dropped back-to-back games to Davidson (64-61) and UAB (66-63) since winning its opener.
The Terrapins have yet to reach 70 points in a game. Overall, they are shooting just 40.5 percent from the field — five of their top six scorers are under that mark on the season — and as a team, Maryland is just 14-of-62 (22.6 percent) from long range.
The story in the loss to UAB was poor shooting, along with too many turnovers (15), according to coach Kevin Willard.
“I actually think the (turnovers) in the first half really changed the momentum of the game,” Willard said. “I thought we were dominating, really playing well defensively, and we had … three turnovers that led to six points and just kind of kept them hanging around the game.”
Another issue that Maryland could face Friday is a “small-ball” lineup from Villanova, which historically has thrived with three or four guards on the court at once. That’s a strategy to keep an eye on after Willard lamented his team’s performance against the guard-oriented lineups of Davidson and UAB.
“I think I’m seeing guys get a little bit more comfortable out there,” Willard said. “But it’s still, I think, a major work in progress is when we get in foul trouble (with the) guys that we’re playing, they went small on us. Really, that’s two times, two games in a row, that the small lineup has hurt us. So I think that’s still gonna be a little bit of a work in progress.”
Villanova leads the all-time series 4-1, although the teams haven’t met in more than a decade.
–Field Level Media
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