Replacing a head coach with more than 500 victories, four trips to the Final Four and two national championships would be a daunting challenge for some people.
Not for Kyle Neptune.
In Neptune’s first game in place of Hall of Famer Jay Wright, No. 16 Villanova cruised past La Salle 81-68 on Monday.
The Wildcats (1-0) will now face another Big 5 rival when they visit Temple on Friday in Philadelphia. There will be two more Big 5 games waiting against Pennsylvania and Saint Joseph’s.
“I get all the hype that’s out there — first game, Big 5 game, a new coach’s first game,” Neptune said. “Being a part of this program for so long, I think we have a unique resolve about playing and coaching for each other. That’s truly all we think about. When you think that way, there’s nothing to be nervous about.”
Caleb Daniels led the way with 24 points and 10 rebounds and Eric Dixon added 20 points and three blocked shots.
However, Villanova will be playing again without injured standouts Justin Moore (Achilles) and Cam Whitmore (right thumb).
Daniels elevated his level of play with a career-high in scoring with the Wildcats. He had posted a career-best 36 while at Tulane before transferring to the Main Line.
And Daniels accomplished the feat against La Salle with a face mask to protect a broken nose suffered in practice last month.
“It was my teammates finding me, my teammates trusting me and staying on the attack for 40 minutes,” Daniels said.
Temple will look to rebound after a maddening season-opening 76-73 overtime home loss to Wagner on Monday.
Damian Dunn scored 29 points and Khalif Battle added 16, but the Owls (0-1) were unable to hold a 15-point second half lead.
Dunn tied a program record by going 18-for-18 from the free throw line.
Individual statistics will not be remembered from this surprising loss for Temple, which entered the season with high expectations.
Head coach Aaron McKie believed his talented team was simply outplayed.
“I just had to take a sober approach to it. It’s a loss,” McKie said. “Basketball is basketball. I just thought they outworked us. I thought they made the critical plays down the stretch that they needed to make to win the game. We were out of sorts. Our first home game playing in front of fans. I thought that we were uptight.
“We got into some sort of rhythm midway through the second half, where we created some separation and we fell asleep again and it cost us the game,” McKie added.
Temple won’t have much time to dwell on the loss with Villanova visiting.
“Stuff like this happens all the time,” Dunn said. “I have been in college basketball a few years and kind of seen and been through this moment. I am not going to waver from it. Khalif is not going to waver from it.”
Temple’s last win against Villanova came all the way back on Dec. 5, 2012. The Wildcats have won the past seven meetings.
–Field Level Media