No. 3 ‘Cats escape with win over St. Joe’s

David Cassilo

Just before tipoff, Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright took out his handkerchief to wipe the sweat off his face. Whether it was the warm temperatures inside the packed and stuffy Palestra or an early sign of what was about to be another back-and-forth contest in a heated rivalry, that handkerchief did not stay far away from Wright’s hand all evening.

In the end, perhaps Wright needed to wipe that sweat off because of his own team’s strong play, as Villanova continued to stay hot, defeating St. Joseph’s 97-89 to remain unbeaten through the season’s first nine games.

While the entire offense impressed, scoring at least 90 points for the second straight game, it was a newcomer and an old veteran who set the tone for the Wildcats.

Redshirt sophomore forward Taylor King came off the bench to record 20 points and nine rebounds in the victory. Meanwhile, senior guard Scottie Reynolds led the team in scoring for the second straight game, finishing with 22 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists.

After exchanging leads early in the first half, Villanova seized control at 13-11 on a 3-point field goal by junior guard Corey Fisher with just over 15 minutes remaining. The Wildcats extended that lead to as many as nine points in the first half, but the Hawks rallied. An 8-0 St. Joseph’s run late in the first half gave the Hawks a 38-37 advantage.

However, the lead quickly evaporated as Reynolds put Villanova back on top just over a minute later with a fast break layup. The Wildcats held onto that lead and went into intermission with a 41-38 advantage.

The first half lead was greatly impacted by the play of Villanova’s bench, which outscored St. Joseph’s 17-8 in the game’s first 20 minutes. Most of that production came from King, who tallied eight points and six rebounds in the first half. His rebounding efforts helped Villanova gain a 29-19 advantage on the glass in the first half.

Reynolds led the way in the scoring column with nine points at the break, while junior forward Antonio Peña had eight.

To start the second half, Reynolds remained hot, scoring seven of the team’s first nine points as the Wildcats began to build on its three-point half time advantage. A 7-0 run by Villanova five minutes into the second half stretched that lead to 10 points, its largest of the game at the time.

The Hawks, though, continued to hang around, bringing the lead down to six points, but Villanova’s offense refused to relent. Twice with the Hawks trailing by eight points, King drained a 3-point shot to push the lead back up to 11.

With 6:37 remaining it appeared that King was about to put the game away, but the forward missed a wide-open, fast break dunk that would have given the Wildcats a 13-point lead. Instead, the Hawks went on a 5-0 run over the next 30 seconds to bring the lead back down to six.

The Hawks continued to inch closer to the Wildcats and brought the score to 84-80 with two minutes remaining when freshman guard Carl Jones sunk three free throws.

That was the closest St. Joseph’s would come, though, as King quickly atoned for his missed dunk with a 3-point field goal to push the lead back up to seven points with 1:29 remaining.

The Wildcats were able to close things out after that, largely because of their strong free throw shooting. The team made its final 29 free throws to close out the game. Overall, the team made 35 of its 40 attempts.

Along with King and Reynolds, two other Wildcats finished in double figures in scoring. Peña finished the contest with 15 points, while Fisher tallied 13, which included making all eight of his attempts from the free throw line.

Although the Hawks fell, they still got an impressive performance from junior forward Idris Hilliard, who finished the game with a season-high 22 points to go along with 7 rebounds.

Senior guard Darrin Govens also kept his team in the game finishing with 19 points. Nevertheless, they were unable to get their team the victory as the Hawks lost for the fifth straight time after starting the season 3-0.

The win for the Wildcats avenges a 77-55 loss the team suffered to the Hawks the last time these two teams played at The Palestra, two seasons ago. It also gives Villanova 21 victories in its last 22 Big Five games.

Villanova will look to sweep its Big Five schedule for the second season in a row when it travels to Temple on Sunday for its next game.