Following a Myrtle Beach Invitational Championship loss against Baylor, the Wildcats bounced back with an 83-72 victory at home against the La Salle Explorers. In his second matchup with Head Coach Jay Wright, former Villanova assistant and current La Salle Head Coach Ashley Howard was not able to lead enough of a push for the upset. With their first victory in Big 5 play, the ‘Cats now move to 5-2 on the season.
Seven minutes into the game, Howard had his squad leading, 14-10. In typical Villanova fashion, the Wildcats made a 16-3 run to take a 26-17 lead with a shade under nine minutes to play in the first frame. From there, Villanova would not relinquish its lead for the rest of the game. Going into the intermission, ‘Nova held a 48-28 lead over their cross-town rival. In his first game off the bench in his Villanova career, freshman guard Justin Moore provided a spark off the bench with 15 points in 16 minutes.
“Everything is new to Justin,” Wright said. “Attention to detail, he’s learning…he really sparked us off the bench, and he gave us great energy.”
In the second half, coach Howard and crew started out with a 12-2 spurt in the first seven minutes of the half to cut the deficit down to 10. Sophomore forward Ed Croswell contributed 10 of his 14 points in the second period to keep the Explorers in the game. After this run by La Salle, Villanova bounced back with a 12-4 run of their own. With five points from Moore and seven points from sophomore forward Saddiq Bey, the underclassmen helped the Wildcats build their lead back up to 18. While La Salle fought back and cut the lead down to as little as 11, the ‘Cats would maintain this margin for the rest of the half en route to the victory. After not winning the Big 5 Championship for the first time in five years, the Wildcats understand the task at hand in order to reclaim the throne in Philadelphia this season.
“We have to come in mentally and physically prepared to be in a battle during all of these Big 5 games,” junior guard Collin Gillespie said. “These games are tough, they are physical and you have to play hard. You have to compete on every possession. That’s something we have to learn how to do for 40 minutes.”
Moore finished the game with 25 points to lead all scorers. Bey picked up his first double-double of the season with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Wildcats’ captain Gillespie chipped in 14 points.
This Wednesday, Villanova will play its second of three straight Big 5 games against the University of Pennsylvania, the only Philadelphia school that the Wildcats lost to last season. Tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m.