No. 3 ‘Nova continues Philadelphia dominance with win

Jon Albert

Behind redshirt junior forward Antonio Peña’s career-high 19 points and 11 rebounds, Taylor King’s timely 3-point shooting and some stifling half-court defense, the Wildcats defeated the Drexel Dragons, 77-58, last night and improved their record to a spotless 7-0.

The story of the game for the Wildcats was their defense, which held Drexel to 31 percent shooting – their best defensive performance of the season.

The Wildcats shored up some ball control issues by limiting their starters to only eight turnovers, while forcing the Dragons into 15 of their own. The ‘Cats blocked a season-high eight shots and stole the ball nine times.

“I think we’re getting better on defense,” Head Coach Jay Wright said. “I think their guards are really special. This was our best game defensively, and it will be interesting to see if we can do it against Maryland.”

The game got off to a quick start with the ‘Cats racing out to a 7-0 lead thanks to a 3-pointer from junior guard Corey Stokes and a steal-turned-layup from senior guard Scottie Reynolds.

Both teams went ice cold after that, with Villanova making just one field goal over the next eight minutes.

As ineffective as the ‘Cats may have been in the first half, the Dragons were that much worse. Villanova’s defense held the Dragons scoreless for almost the first 10 minutes, building an 11-0 lead.

The Dragons didn’t stay dormant for long.

Drexel clawed back with a quick 10-6 run and found itself on the verge of getting back into the game. King answered with two quick threes and a key steal that Scottie Reynolds converted into points on the other end.

Neither team could put together any kind of offensive rhythm for the rest of the period, but at the end of a sloppy first half, the Wildcats found themselves with a 34-18 lead despite only shooting 9-for-28 (32.1 percent) from the field. The ‘Cats’ defense limited Drexel to 22.6 percent shooting in the first half and forced the Dragons into eight turnovers.

While both teams had trouble making their shots in the first half, the difference for Villanova was the ability to get to the basket, get fouled and make their free throws. The ‘Cats shot 79 percent (11-for-14) from the charity stripe in the first half, getting nearly half their points from the free throw line. In contrast, the Dragons shot a paltry 16.7 percent (1-for-6) from the line.

The second half started with a bang for the Wildcats, as they quickly extended their lead to 42-21 behind a balanced scoring attack.

Drexel wouldn’t go quietly, though, as Chris Fouch and Derrick Thomas added three apiece to their game-high totals of 20 and 23, respectively.

The ‘Cats never let up and, at one point, held a commanding 65-39 lead. The squad shot a red-hot 62.5 percent in the second half, countering their weak first-half performance.

A balanced distribution of points helped the Wildcats sustain a late run by the Dragons, who ended the game on an 11-4 run by sinking some garbage-time 3-pointers. Despite the poor defense at the end of the game, fans rejoiced in the fact that every member of the team was able to score, including walk-on senior forward Russell Wooten.

Peña’s career high 19 points were aided by one of his more impressive performances from the free throw line, where he finished 11-for-16.

King’s 3-point shooting also proved crucial, as he sunk a team-high four 3-pointers and added a season-high 16 points.

It was also the 32nd consecutive victory for the Wildcats at the Pavilion, where they haven’t lost since early 2007. King mentioned postgame how even though the Pavilion crowd was its usual raucous self, it didn’t make a difference to him.

“I heard the crowd,” King said. “I just don’t feed off the crowd, but I hear them. I play for my coaches and my teammates.”

Aside from Peña and King, Reynolds added 14 points of his own, along with eight rebounds and a team-high six assists.

The ‘Cats have won 18 of their 19 meetings with the Dragons and avenged the loss that Drexel served them at the Pavilion in 2006. The win was the third this season for the Wildcats against Philadelphia-based schools and the 20th win in ‘Nova’s last 23 games against the Big 5 and Drexel.

The ‘Cats haven’t lost an intercity game since losing to St. Jospeh’s in 2007.

The Wildcats will look to keep their perfect record this Sunday in Washington, D.C., where they will take on Maryland in the BB&T Classic. It will be the first of five straight road games.