No. 9 Villanova beats Georgetown 76-63 in Big East opener

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports Images
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WASHINGTON — Villanova is set to unpack the bags and head home.

The No. 9 Wildcats wrapped their longest road stretch to open a season in 17 years with a dominant second half that showcased why they’re a favorite to win the Big East — and maybe hang one more national championship banner in the Pavilion.

Collin Gillespie and Caleb Daniels each hit five 3-pointers and scored 18 points to lead the Wildcats past Georgetown 76-63 on Friday night in the Big East opener for both teams.

The game matched the preseason favorite Wildcats against a Hoyas team picked to finish at the bottom — but without fans and on unusual turf — it had the competitive feel for about 30 minutes of a conference tourney game in March.

The Wildcats (5-1) trailed by 18 early in the first half at Georgetown’s empty on-campus gym — a surprising deficit considering Villanova entered as 11.5-point road favorites — until they got 3-point happy and showed again why they are the team to beat in the Big East.

“It was really weird playing Georgetown in this gym with no fans,” coach Jay Wright said. “This is one game you just know is always going to be a huge a crowd. It was really strange. But once the ball went up, it was a typical Big East battle.”

The 6-foot-3 hard-nosed Gillespie shook off a slow start and keyed a 15-0 run that put the Wildcats in control of their sixth straight game on the road. Gillespie hit consecutive 3s early in the second that pulled Villanova within seven and another 3 that tied the game at 50. Daniels, a transfer out of Tulane, hit one more 3 that capped the 15-0 spurt and gave the Wildcats the lead.

“I thought in the first half we were getting great shots for each other, they just weren’t falling,” Gillespie said.

The Wildcats made 7 of 22 3s in the first half; 8 of 17 in the second.

The Villanova offense came to life after an off-kilter first, but it was the defensive improvement that pleased Wright. The Hoyas (2-3) shot 56% in the first half and beat Nova on the boards by five to put them in position for a big-time upset.

“We’re still building, we’re still learning each other,” Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing said. “We can’t panic. This is our first game in the Big East against a quality team.”

In any other year, Georgetown fans would have been going wild at Capital One Arena, the city’s downtown NBA and NHL arena. But pandemic restrictions forced the Hoyas to McDonough Arena, where they last played a full season slate of games in 1980-81.

“With no one in there, it’s really bizarre,” Wright said. “It’s like one of those preseason scrimmages, except the game means a lot.”

The Hoyas hung around, shades of their one-point loss to Villanova on March 7. Daniels, though, buried his fifth 3 of the game during a 13-2 run with 3:22 left that stretched Villanova’s lead to 68-61.

“These type of situations do not rattle us,” Daniels said.

Jamorko Pickett led the Hoyas with 16 points.