‘Nova defeats WVU

Nate McGann

 After getting embarrassed on the road against Georgetown, the fourth-ranked Villanova Wildcats could ill-afford a second straight loss to a Big East contender, in this case No. 5 West Virginia, if they hoped to keep pace with Syracuse. 

Reynolds, who has a history of poor performances in Morgantown, exploded in the second half to pace all scorers with 21 points en route to an 82-75 victory in the season’s first matchup of top-5 teams. Junior guard Corey Fisher, who struggled with foul trouble for much of the second half, finished with 17 points, better than anyone on West Virginia. 

In a game that featured several story lines, Reynolds once again stole the show, tallying 19 points in the second half. 

The Big East Player of the Year candidate continued to show how much he has progressed this year, making key play after key play late in the game as West Virginia cut into Villanova’s double-digit lead. Reynolds’ ability to take over a game was on full display Monday despite the fact that the Mountaineers haven’t been kind to him in the past.

“You have guys asking ‘Where’s the toughest place to play?'” Reynolds said. “And hands down for me, it’s West Virginia. It’s hostile. It feels good to get one under our belt.”

The Mountaineer fans have made headlines of late for their “over the top” support that included profanity on national television, objects being thrown on the court and a coin being hurled at one of Pittsburgh’s assistant coaches. But Villanova made sure to take the crowd out of it early. 

West Virginia led for only a short period in the first half before allowing the Wildcats to jump out to a 13-point lead. 

Much of the first half success can be credited to Fisher, who utilized his speed and ability to drive to the basket to exploit the forward-heavy Mountaineers. 

While Reynolds was content with being patient and waiting for the right time to break out, Fisher made up for his absence. The junior scored 12 of his 17 points in the first half, sparking the Wildcats’ offensive attack. When Fisher sat down, in came Reynolds. 

West Virginia quickly made the game a 3-point affair with just over eight minutes left in the game on the hot shooting of Casey Mitchell and Devin Ebanks. Mitchell made two big 3-pointers and a nice layup, while an Ebanks dunk made the score 62-59. That would be as close as Reynolds would let West Virginia get. 

Reynolds was perfect from the free throw line and scored the bulk of his points in the final 13 minutes of the game, but it was his smart play, exemplified by an exceptional pass to junior Antonio Peña after drawing two defenders, that was the difference in the game. He never let up.

“[Head Coach Jay Wright] just wanted us to be aggressive,” Reynolds said. 

One of the surprises from Monday’s contest was Villanova’s much improved defense. The Wildcats ranked 12th in the conference in points allowed per game prior to playing West Virginia, but managed to hold the Mountaineers to 41 percent shooting and only 33 points in the first half. West Virginia’s Da’Sean Butler, who lit up the Wildcats for a career-high 43 points in their lone meeting last season, was limited to only 12 points on two of 12 shots from the field. 

“We really played as a unit defensively,” Wright said. “We really covered for each other and played unselfishly. When we had to switch, we switched. We got down against Georgetown and lost our composure and started scrambling. Tonight, we really kept good composure defensively.”

Peña had another productive night, finishing with 10 points and nine rebounds, and is quickly emerging as a viable option on the low-post. Fellow big men, sophomore Taylor King and freshman Mouphtaou Yarou, were different stories. 

Yarou never saw the floor, presumably due to matchup concerns with the athletic Mountaineers. King, on the other hand, continued missing easy buckets, coming up empty on all six of his shot attempts. 

Reynolds led the team in points, assists and steals and shot 50 percent from the floor. He is now fourth on Villanova’s all-time scoring list and will look to move up the list on Saturday.