VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP)—Jay Wright knew this day was coming, and he knew the initial results might not be pretty.
It turned out he was right.
Corey Stokes scored 20 points, Corey Fisher added 13 and No. 5 Villanova overcame a sloppy first half for an 84-61 victory over Fairleigh Dickinson on Friday night.
“All this hype, all this hype, and I’ve been waiting for this moment so everyone could see it,” Wright said. “When everyone sees how young we are, how inexperienced we are, I think it’ll temper expectations a little bit. But I think we can be good. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but I think we can be a good team by the end of the year.”
Star guard Scottie Reynolds managed just eight points on 2-of-10 shooting for the Wildcats (1-0), who are coming off a trip to the Final Four. Reynolds had only two points in the first half as Villanova built a 35-34 lead at intermission.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Wright said. “I thought we settled for 3s early and then in the second half, we did a better job of getting it inside.”
Stokes ignited the Wildcats with 17 points in the second half, including four 3-pointers and a three-point play. Antonio Pena added nine points and 10 rebounds for the Wildcats, while freshman Dominic Cheek chipped in with eight points off the bench.
Sophomore forward Taylor King, a highly regarded transfer from Duke, registered nine points and seven rebounds in his Villanova debut. He was one of four newcomers to play at least 18 minutes for the Wildcats.
“I was a freshman at one time,” Fisher said, “and I didn’t understand everything on both ends of the floor. But that’s a challenge for us and that’s what we’ve got leaders for.”
Terence Grier scored 17 points and Mike Scott had 15 to lead Fairleigh Dickinson (0-1). Sean Baptiste added 11 points.
The Knights fell behind 25-15 before going on a 15-2 run to take a three-point lead late in the first half. The advantage was short-lived, as Reynolds made a runner and Fisher knocked down a pair of free throws, and the Wildcats never trailed again.
Fairleigh Dickinson hung tough early in the second half, closing within 49-45 on a layup by Alvin Mofunanya with 15:11 to play. Villanova responded with a 10-0 run, highlighted by six points from Stokes.
He finished 6 of 12 from the floor, including 5 of 10 from behind the arc.
“Fish and Stokes hadn’t been in a position where they had to take over in the second half,” Wright said of his junior guards. “That is the best thing we can take away from this game.”
After shooting just 32 percent in the first half, the Wildcats shot 48 percent after the break. They also turned up the defense in the second half, harassing the Knights into 32 percent shooting, including 1 of 8 from 3-point range.
“We responded in the second half,” Wright said. “I thought we played much better defense in the second half.”