Villanova squared off against Big Five rival La Salle at the Pavilion on Tuesday night. The match-up was the first Big Five game for both teams. Penn and Temple tipped off the Big Five season one night earlier at the Palestra, with Temple squeaking out a narrow overtime win 73-67.
The Wildcats & Explorers were both error prone in the early minutes of the game. With just under twelve minutes to play in the first half, the score was 7-6 in favor of La Salle. Sam Mills then led a charge for the Explorers hitting two three-point shots as they stretched the lead to 17-12 over the next four minutes.
The Wildcats remained frigid from the field and La Salle built their lead to eight, 22-14. The Explorers lead reached double digits, 31-21, on a three pointer by Earl Pettis. The Wildcats managed a slight rally to cut the margin to 31-26 on a bucket by James Bell, and two free throws by Dominic Cheek.
Villanova missed all twelve of its three-point attempts in the first half. On the other hand, La Salle hit six of ten three-point attempts. The two teams committed a combined 22 turnovers in the first 20 minutes, fourteen for the Wildcats and eight for the Explorers.
Villanova opened the second half with a 6-0 run to take a 32-31 lead. The teams then exchanged the lead back and forth nine times. With the Wildcats up 50-47 with 6:30 left in regulation, the Explorers went on an 8-0 run to take a 55-50 lead at the 4:15 mark.
It appeared that Villanova was down for the count when Devon White slammed home a missed layup attempt by Sam Mills to give the Explorers a 61-56 lead with a little more then a minute to play. Nova managed to battle back and tied the game on a steal and basket by freshman Darrun Hilliard as the student section chanted “On your feet!” to the rest of the fans in attendance (the vast majority of which remained seated, even in the final pivotal moments). At the end of regulation, the game was tied 61-61.
In the overtime period, Villanova broke a 63-63 tie on a basket by Wayns, who then followed it up with a three-pointer which put the Cats up five. Dom Cheek then hit eight straight free throws to keep the Explorers at bay. Despite shooting 35.2% for the entire game, and committing 20 turnovers, the Villanova Wildcats managed to outlast the La Salle Explorers 76-69 in overtime.
It was, as Villanova head-coach Jay Wright said, a game that either team could have won. Last minute heroics (like Hilliard’s steal in the last minute of regulation) gave the Wildcats the opportunity to win the spirited and intense Big Five match up.
With the victory, Villanova improved to 2-0, 1-0 Big Five. La Salle dropped to 1-1, 0-1 Big Five.
Villanova won the battle of the boards by a 50-35 margin. La Salle shot 26 of 70 from the field for the game (37.1%) whereas Villanova scored seven less buckets (19 of 54 field goal attempts). However, the Wildcats hit on 34 of 41 shots (82.9%) from the free throw line. In contrast, the Explorers shot far less free throws, hitting just 9 of 11 from the charity stripe (81.8%).
In the second half and overtime (combined), La Salle was called for 16 personal fouls, compared to a mere 4 for Villanova.
Wayns led the Wildcats in scoring with 22 points, and in assists with 4. Cheek chipped in 18 points, and James Bell added 15 more. Mouph Yarou had another double-double. He scored 10 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. JayVaughn Pinkston was the only other Wildcat to score, adding 5 points.
Tyreek Duren, who played an outstanding game for the Explorers, was the high scorer for the game with 24 points. He also paced the Explorers with 5 assists. Sam Mills and Earl Pettis were the other two Explorers scoring in double figures. Mills added 19 points and Pettis 12. Devon White was La Salle’s top rebounder, pulling down 8 boards.
For the second game in a row, many former Villanova players were in attendance for the game including Randy Foye, Dante Cunningham, Mike Nardi, and Chris Charles. Also in the building was coaching legend Larry Brown, and highly coveted 2012 recruit Amile Jefferson.