NJIT faces tall task in clash with No. 7 Villanova

Dec 23, 2014 - 4:26 PM Villanova, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Fresh off a thrilling win over an old rival, the seventh-ranked Villanova Wildcats get back to work on Tuesday night when they entertain the NJIT Highlanders at The Pavilion.

NJIT comes into the contest sporting a 5-7 record, but the team recently pulled off its first-ever win over a ranked foe when it upset Michigan in Ann Arbor on Dec. 6, 72-70. That was actually the first of two straight wins for the Highlanders, their one and only winning streak of the season. They then dropped two straight, but bounced back to claim an 84-76 win at Central Connecticut State on Saturday.

Villanova enters at 11-0, the club keeping its perfect record in tact by knocking off visiting Syracuse in overtime on Saturday, 82-77. The Wildcats improved to 5-0 in extra-session affairs since the start of the 2013-14 campaign, and they are 7-0 at home this season. Villanova will tip off Big East Conference play on New Year's Eve at home against Butler.

The Wildcats prevailed in the only other meeting between these two teams, taking a 70-60 decision at home on Dec. 28, 2012.

NJIT had four starters score in double figures in Saturday's win at Central Connecticut State, with Damon Lynn's 16 points serving as the team-high. Lynn also dished out six assists, Ky Howard had five to go with 12 points and six rebounds, and Winfield Willis 14 points and four helpers. Daquan Holiday chipped in 13 points to go with his club-best seven boards for the Highlanders, who knocked down 53.4 percent of their field goal attempts, which included a 10-of-22 showing from 3-point range. Lynn had five treys. CCSU missed the mark on 10 of its 12 long-range launches, but did manage to log a 26-12 edge in points from the foul line.

Lynn is actually shooting better from distance (.394) than he is the floor overall (.360), and his 17.5 ppg has him atop NJIT's scoring list. Howard (13.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 46 assists) and Willis (10.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg) round out the double-digit scorers for the Highlanders, who are netting 67 ppg but yielding 71.5 ppg. Carelessness with the basketball has hurt the team, as it is guilty of nearly 16 turnovers per outing. NJIT also routinely loses the rebounding battle (-1.7), and it could stand to show some improvement at the free-throw line (.653).

Josh Hart set a new career high in points for the second consecutive game in Villanova's recent win over Syracuse, netting 21 points right after putting up 20 in a win over Temple. Hart, who has now scored in double figures in the last six games, was joined in double digits by Darrun Hilliard (23) and JayVaughn Pinkston (25), as the Wildcats overcame a 12-point halftime deficit, and a five-point deficit with 17 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime and then take the victory. Pinkston added 10 rebounds, helping the Wildcats claim a 36-30 edge on the glass. Both teams were rather sloppy at times, with SU committing 20 turnovers and VU 18. The 'Cats scored 26 points at the charity stripe, compared to only 13 for the Orange.

Balance on offense and some pretty stingy defense have been the keys to Villanova's success, as the team is averaging 76.6 ppg while permitting just 58.5 ppg. A total of seven players net between 7.0 and 12.6 ppg, with Hilliard checking in at the top. Ryan Arcidiacono, who is at the bottom of that list, contributes in other ways as he dished out nine assists and had no turnovers in Saturday's win, and his 42 assists against only 12 turnovers on the season has him atop the Big East in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.5). The Wildcats goad the opposition into close to 17 giveaways per outing, while logging a +3.9 rebounding differential.

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