CONWAY, S.C., November 21, 2019 – On a team that has 12 players who are 6-foot-4 or taller, it was 6-3 guard Collin Gillespie who came up big for the Villanova Wildcats at the beginning of Thursday’s opener of the Myrtle Beach Invitational against Middle Tennessee.
Gillespie scored eight points in the first 55 seconds of the game, setting the tone for what turned out to be a 98-69 Villanova victory. It was an important minute for both the Wildcats (3-1) and Gillespie, who struggled through an injury-filled preseason.
“Collin had a really tough preseason. So to see him get off like that to start the game was important for our team,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “Our whole team looks to him for his energy. … We need him to get his swag back, and it’s slowly coming.”
Gillespie scored only eight more points after his hot start to finish with 16. But that opening minute had a carryover effect on the rest of the team, as the Wildcats jumped out to a 24-4 lead barely seven minutes into the game on the way to a 53-28 halftime advantage.
“Villanova just got off to a great start,” Middle Tennessee coach Nick McDevitt said. “Gillespie really opened things up early in the game, and we were in a double-digit hole right away. You can’t do that against a good team with quality players.”
Gillespie is one of the few players on this year’s team who Wright says is “established,” yet he was sidelined for much of the preseason with a variety of ailments, including a broken nose and a case of plantar fasciitis.
“The preseason was tough for me, just having to deal with injuries and then get back in the swing of things,” Gillespie says. “I feel like I’m starting to come around. (The start of Thursday’s game) definitely helps me play with confidence. I just want to set a tone and do something to get our guys going.”
It apparently worked against Middle Tennessee (3-2), as the Wildcats made 56.7 percent of their shots (47.4 percent from 3-point range) and finished with 27 assists to only 12 turnovers. Sophomore forward Cole Swider came off the bench to score 26 points on 10-of-15 shooting and grab seven rebounds.
Despite all the offensive positives in the game, Wright said he was most pleased with the way the Wildcats played defense. Villanova ensured that there would be no comeback by holding the Blue Raiders to 4-of-18 shooting from 3-point range.
“When you’re making shots like we were, it’s always tough for the opponent. Then you combine that with good defense, and that was really the difference,” Wright said. “We’re still learning. We have a lot of work to do. There are going to be some bumps in the road for this team. But that’s OK. We’re willing to deal with it. We want to earn our respect as a group together.”