After starting the season with a couple of easy victories over lesser opponents at home, Villanova received its first real test in the opening round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
Guard Scottie Reynolds hopes the early challenge can provide something for the team to build on for the rest of the year.
The fifth-ranked Wildcats look to carry some momentum from an impressive comeback victory into Friday’s matchup with No. 18 Dayton, which also rallied to win its tournament opener.
Villanova (3-0), which advanced to last season’s Final Four, opened this year by outscoring Fairleigh Dickinson and Pennsylvania by a combined 61 points in winning its first two games, but it struggled Thursday against George Mason in Puerto Rico.
The Wildcats trailed by 13 points in the first half and were down 67-63 in the final minute before freshman Maalik Wayns’ 3-pointer with 41 seconds left. After a free throw by the Patriots, freshman Isaiah Armwood hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 17 seconds left to lift Villanova to a 69-68 victory.
“This team hasn’t been through a game like this as a collective group,” said Reynolds, who finished with 18 points. “This is something we are going to look back on and draw from as we go through the season.”
Armwood’s 3 was the first basket of his college basketball career. The freshman forward played just four minutes, coming off the bench after Antonio Pena and Taylor King both fouled out.
“He was the last one I wanted to take the shot. I’ll be honest,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright admitted.
Despite the victory, it was a sloppy game for Villanova, which has plenty of areas to improve.
The Wildcats shot 35.8 percent from the floor and turned the ball over 17 times. Reynolds was responsible for eight of those turnovers after having only one in his first two games.
“I’m going to have to watch the film and I’ll come back better tomorrow,” he said.
It could be tough for Reynolds to have a crisper performance against a Dayton teamed that forced No. 21 Georgia Tech into 26 turnovers in Thursday’s opening-round 63-59 win in San Juan.
The Flyers (2-0) scored 27 points off those turnovers and rallied from a 57-50 deficit with 4:37 remaining.
Dayton’s starters scored just 16 points, but the bench - led by sophomores Chris Johnson and Paul Williams - carried the team.
Johnson finished with a team-high 19 points on 7 of 13 shooting while Williams hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 55 seconds remaining and went 4 for 4 from the free throw line in the last minute to seal the victory.
“He’s going to be an impact guy for us, which is what we thought from the beginning,” Flyers coach Brian Gregory said of Williams, who finished with 13 points.
Dayton was hoping to find some success with its perimeter shooting this season, but that hasn’t been the case through two games. The Flyers were 9 of 28 from 3-point range against the Yellow Jackets after going 9 for 27 in the opener.
The Wildcats, meanwhile, are limiting opponents to 28.0 percent (14 of 50) from behind the arc.
This is the first meeting between the teams since Dayton’s 80-78 home win Dec. 22, 2002.
The Flyers split their four games against ranked opponents last season but have lost 10 straight to top 5 opponents since defeating then-No. 3 DePaul 72-71 on Feb. 18, 1984.