PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Eric Paschall scored 15 points and Jalen Brunson had 14 to lead No. 6 Villanova to a 75-60 victory over Columbia on Friday night.
Villanova, the 2016 national champions, won their 15th straight season opener and pulled away in the second half in the first game of their home arena for the season, the Wells Fargo Center.
Mike Smith scored 19 points for Columbia. The Lions, out of the Ivy League, hung around in the first half as they chased their second win over Villanova in five years.
Paschall and Brunson had the best efforts from the field of what was an otherwise mediocre shooting night for the Wildcats. They missed 25 of 32 3-point attempts and only shot 61 percent (14 of 23) from the free-throw line.
Brunson, who made The Associated Press preseason All-America team, kept the Big East favorites from ever losing control.
The game marked the anticipated debut of 6-foot-8 forward Omari Spellman and the return of guard Phil Booth.
Booth was the leading scorer in the 2016 national championship game but missed almost all last season with an injured knee. Booth’s left knee held up against the Lions and he scored eight points.
Spellman was expected to become Villanova’s big man in the frontcourt last season. The NCAA declared the freshman academically ineligible for the season because Spellman did not complete his initial eligibility requirements in time. Spellman had 11 points and 11 rebounds.
The Wildcats were 25 1/2-point favorites to thump the Lions in the first of 12 games they will play this season at the Wells Fargo Center. Villanova’s on-campus home, the Pavilion, is in the midst of a $60 million makeover that will turn the woefully outdated gym into a state-of-the-art complex. Columbia actually beat the Wildcats at the Pavilion in 2012, the Lions’ first win over a Big East team in nearly 30 years.
Columbia kept this one close for a bit, too. But Columbia only trailed by nine at the break in large part because Villanova kept missing 3s. The Wildcats missed 12 of 18 in the half.
Booth opened the second half with a 3 and the rout was on.
Villanova: The Wildcats have two more soft games on the schedule before they play three times in the Battle for Atlantis.
Columbia: The Lions still haven’t beat a ranked team since 1994. The Lions don’t have any ranked teams scheduled the rest of the season but do play Penn State and UConn. Columbia could return to Philadelphia in March for the Ivy League tournament.
Columbia plays Tuesday at Longwood.
Villanova returns to the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday to play Nicholls State.