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No. 12 Villanova rallies past Lehigh 77-66

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) It was not the kind of homecoming Villanova senior guard Darrun Hilliard might have wanted.

Hilliard, who played his high school ball at nearby Bethlehem Liberty, shrugged off a tough shooting night to score six of his 10 points in a decisive 22-7 second-half run, as the No. 12 Wildcats rallied for a 77-66 victory over Lehigh in both teams’ season opener Friday night.

Dylan Ennis scored 19 points to pace the Wildcats, who went 29-5 last season while winning the Big East regular-season championship. Ryan Arcidiacono added 16.

”We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said, ”but we’ve got a gutty team.”

Austin Price scored a career-high 24 points and Tim Kempton had 15 for the Mountain Hawks, who went 14-18 in 2013-14. Kempton also had 10 rebounds.

Trailing 46-40 with 15:14 left, Villanova went on a 22-7 run that included points by six different players. Center Daniel Ochefu, who had four of his six points in the binge, dropped in a hook shot with 10:44 left to give the Wildcats the lead for good, at 52-50.

Hilliard, who shot just 4 of 18 from the floor, had his only 3-pointer in nine attempts earlier in the run. He added a steal and dunk to make it 56-50, then a free throw.

Hilliard, who missed his first five shots from the field and his first seven 3-point attempts, said later he was ”overly excited” for the game. Of the dunk, he said, ”I wanted to give energy to my guys. That’s all I wanted to do.”

Ennis capped the run with a 3-pointer, giving Villanova a 62-53 lead with eight minutes left.

The Mountain Hawks closed to 62-58 with 4:20 remaining on a 3-pointer by Price, but Villanova scored 14 of the next 16 points, six by Ennis, to pull away.

The Wildcats missed 11 of their first 13 shots from the floor and fell behind 14-9, as Kempton and Price scored four points apiece for the Mountain Hawks.

Villanova didn’t take its first lead until backup guard Josh Hart dropped in a layup with 8:53 left in the half to make it 20-19, but Lehigh used an 8-0 run to surge back ahead 28-22 moments later. Kempton contributed a pair of baskets to that flurry.

The Wildcats answered by reeling off 10 straight points, six of those by Ennis, to take a 32-28 lead.

Villanova’s advantage was 32-30 at halftime, but they shot just 30 percent (12-for-40) and missed 20 of their 23 3-point attempts. Arcadiacono led the Wildcats with nine points.

Kempton had 11 in the half for Lehigh, which countered 10 turnovers with 51.9-percent shooting.

Price then scored eight of his points in the first 3:10 of the second half, including two 3-pointers. Teammates Corey Schaefer and Miles Simelton also connected from the arc, giving Lehigh a 46-40 advantage with 15:14 left in the game.

NUMBERS GAME

Villanova shot just 38 percent from the floor (27-for-71), 24.2 percent (8-for-33) from the arc. . Lehigh shot 53.1 percent, 37.5 percent from 3-point range, but turned the ball over 23 times. . The Wildcats, who recorded 13 steals, turned the ball over just nine times.

PRICE IS RIGHT

Price, who shot 10-for-17 from the field (4-for-7 from the arc), notched 17 of his points in the second half.

”Coach (Brett) Reed just tells me to be locked and loaded every time I get the ball,” the sophomore said.

TIP INS

Pinkston finished with 11 points for Villanova, and Kris Jenkins scored nine off the bench. . It was the first college basketball game played in the PPL Center, which opened in September. The announced attendance in the 10,000-seat arena was 8,751.

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN

Lehigh also recruited Hilliard out of high school, Mountain Hawks coach Brett Reed said.

”I think he would have looked pretty good,” Reed said, ”in a brown uniform with white trim.”

WHAT’S NEXT

Villanova hosts Maryland-Eastern Shore on Monday, while Lehigh hosts Canisius on Tuesday.

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