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No. 1 Villanova cruises past Hofstra

Hofstra guard Justin Wright-Foreman, who scored 25 points,

Hofstra guard Justin Wright-Foreman, who scored 25 points, looks up court while Villanova guard Jalen Brunson defends during the Wildcats' 95-71 victory at Nassau Coliseum on Dec. 22, 2017. Credit: Lee S. Weissman

Jay Wright admitted that he wasn’t really at the top of his game this past week. As top-ranked Villanova prepped for Friday night’s game against Hofstra at Nassau Coliseum, the Wildcats’ coach was conflicted. He spent seven seasons building Hofstra into an NCAA Tournament team before getting his break in Philadelphia.

“I don’t want to beat Hofstra. I root for Hofstra,” Wright said. “I watch Hofstra games. I follow the Hofstra scores.”

Clearly, his No. 1-ranked team does not. Villanova dismantled the Pride, 95-71, before 7,892, and it was a game for only about 10 minutes. The Wildcats moved the ball, turned almost every Pride miscue into points and shot the ball brilliantly.

Omari Spellman had nine points and Donte DiVincenzo five to power Villanova through a 27-7 first-half run for a 44-23 lead with 2:46 left in the half. Villanova (12-0) never let Hof stra (7-5) get closer than 18 points in the second half.

“You can’t make mistakes against this team. If you do, they make you pay. It’s why they’re No. 1 in the country,” Pride coach Joe Mihalich said. “I don’t know if they have a weakness. If somebody’s got one, I’d like to have heard it.”

Mikal Bridges had 20 points, Spellman 19, Phil Booth 17 and DiVincenzo 16 for Villanova, which shot 48 percent and was 16-for-34 on three-pointers. Spellman shot 7-for-9 overall.

“Playing against No. 1 was a tremendous experience,” said Justin Wright-Foreman, who led the Pride with 25 points. “They’re good, but I think we’re good, too.”

Wright didn’t disagree. “We’ve seen all these upsets and this is the kind of team that can do it, with great guards and other guys who know their roles. That’s what we saw with Wofford [against North Carolina],” he said. “Those guards can control the tempo and can get hot and get you.

“That team, when they get to the league [CAA], they’re going to have a chance to win it.”

The Wildcats’ home arena is being renovated and they’re playing many games at the 76ers’ Wells Fargo Center, but they got a chance to play a home game at the Coliseum. Wright said it would be the perfect setting to play Hofstra, which was the visitor despite being within walking distance of its home court.

During the week, he found nostalgia messing with him. Said Wright, “There was a lot of emotion. I told the guys a few days ago, ‘Look, I’m messed up.’ . . . Coming back here, there are so many great feelings and emotions.”

Wright spoke with Hofstra alumni before the game, and many of his former Hofstra players attended. Before and after the game, he shared a long embrace with Speedy Claxton, once his star at Hof stra and now a Pride assistant coach.

He still appreciates all Hofstra did for him.

“It was very emotional for me. It was tough,” Wright said. “I appreciate our guys staying focused. I don’t know if I was at the top of my game.”

New York Sports