Monday, February 13, 2017

No. 2 Villanova 75, DePaul 62: Wildcats in peak form on defense

                                                          Photo Credit: Geno Green

ROSEMONT— On their second game away from the Philadelphia area in three days, the No. 2 Villanova Wildcats (25-2, 12-2 Big East) showed little rust as its defense played in vintage form in a 75-62 win over the DePaul Blue Demons (8-18, 1-12 Big East) at Allstate Arena.

Eli Cain and Billy Garrett Jr. came into the contest as the top two DePaul scorers at 16.0 and 15.3 points per game, respectively, but went the first 28:53 without a field goal as they finished with a combined 14 points, on 5-of-22 from the field.

Villanova coach Jay Wright gave credit to Josh Hart and Eric Paschall for putting the clamps on Cain and Garrett Jr., respectively.

"Josh (Hart) and Eric (Paschall) did a great job, especially in the first half," Wright said. "As a team, you can't really stop (Eli and Billy) individually and did not want to get caught with them having isolations one on one. They are as good as anyone in the Big East in the iso and thought it was a big part of our win."

Despite missing Darryl Reynolds (hip) for the second straight game, Villanova’s six-man rotation answered the call as Jalen Brunson, highlighted four players in double figures scoring with 18, in his return to the Chicagoland area.

"Every time I step on the court, I try to be the best player possible," Brunson said. "Playing in high school (in the Chicagoland area) helped me for moments like these and going forward."

Villanova flipped 14 DePaul turnovers to 16 points on the other end and coach Dave Leitao gave credit to Jay Wright and its preparation on defense.

"The methodical way (Villanova) goes about its business and how everyone fits into the program and now with a shortened bench, they play really well together," Leitao said. "You have to plyay at the top of our game and we did anything but the above in the first half."

Mikal Bridges added 15 points, highlighted by two highlight-worthy dunks in the second half, while Kris Jenkins left his footprints all over the stat sheet with 13 points, on 8-of-8 from the free-throw line and eight rebounds. 13 of Josh Hart's 16 points came in the second half as he finished in double figures for the 32nd straight game. 

Villanova lived from the free-throw line as it converted 26-of-32 (81 percent), while DePaul went 10-of-16 (63 percent).

The Wildcats marched out to an 8-2 lead early, but went to the bench early with freshmen Donte DiVincenzo and Dylan Painter.

Painter, who saw three minutes of action at Xavier on Feb. 11, paid immediate dividends with an open baseline jumper at the 14:42 mark. The Wildcats endured hardship in the first 6:30 as they struggled to get into a flow with two shot clock violations.

On the other end, Villanova’s defense forced DePaul to six turnovers in the first 8:10 and turned it into 10 points as it stayed in control with a 18-9 lead.

Cain and Garrett Jr. could not find a groove as they went scoreless for the first 9:31 until a free throw make by Cain ended the drought.

An already frail Wildcats rotation got thinner as Hart picked up his second foul with 10:27 left, which forced him to be benched. Villanova increased its lead to 23-10 behind a Brunson layup and a Bridges three-pointer.

With Cain and Garrett Jr. non-factors on the offensive end, Villanova continued to dominate on both ends as it went into halftime with a 39-18 lead.

The Wildcats' lead expanded to as many as 27 points in the second half, but a Blue Demons 10-0 run would be the closest they would get for the remainder of the game.

The Wildcats conclude their three-game road trip on Jan. 18 as they travel to Newark, NJ, to take on the Seton Hall Pirates, while the Blue Demons look for their first road win on conference play as they play the No. 24 Butler Bulldogs at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

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