Wildcats Fend Off La Salle in Big Five Opener


Courtesy of Ledger Enquirer

Wildcats Fend Off La Salle in Big Five Opener

Tyler Kemp

In a clash against former assistant coach, Ashley Howard, Jay Wright and his Villanova Wildcats defeated the La Salle Explorers, 85-78 at the Palestra on Saturday. 

“Big 5 game, what can you say?”, said Wright in his postgame presser with the media. 

Sophomore guard Collin Gillespie opened up the scoring for the Cats with a quick layup after tipoff. Traci Carter hit a three-point shot on the next possession for the first La Salle bucket, which led to Explorers fans throwing blue and yellow streamers onto the court, a Big 5 tradition. Head coach Jay Wright was not happy early on as he immediately called a timeout after a missed fall away jump shot from senior captain Phil Booth led to a Jamir Moultrie triple to extend La Salle’s early lead to 13-9. Neither team was able to gain separation as both sides shot three-point shot exceptionally. Sophomore guard Isiah Deas provided a spark for the Explorers by hitting four straight threes as part of a 14-3 run to take a 12-point lead at 32-20. There was a point in time where the Cats and Explorers hit threes in 10 consecutive possessions. With a late rally, Villanova was able to close the gap to 42-39 at halftime.

After La Salle jumped to a 47-39 early in the second half, Villanova went on an 8-0 run of their own in the first four minutes of the half to even the score. Freshman guard Jack Clark stopped the run for the Explorers with a shot from deep to regain the lead for the Explorers at 50-47. On the contrary, Villanova freshman Saddiq Bey earned a 4-point play on a corner three from a Gillespie wrap around assist for the ‘Cats first lead of the game at 55-54. On the following possession, Gillespie continued his dime dropping as he found his captain, Paschall, on a backdoor cut for a monstrous dunk to get three points the hard way on an and-one. Junior guard Traci Carter was a man on a mission for La Salle in the second half as he had 17 points total, with 10 of them coming in the second half, to go along with 8 assists. Not to be outdone, Booth responded with a big time throwdown which led to an and-one for a 76-72 lead. It was tight until the end, but two Paschall free throws eventually iced the game at 85-78. 

Paschall, Booth, and Gillespie finished the game with 27,19 and 15, respectively to lead the scoring punch for the Cats. Joe Cremo also contributed 8 points off the pine shooting 3-4 from the field and 2-3 from deep. 

“I think Joe Cremo came in in the first half and sparked us, also defensively,” stated Wright postgame about the former America East Player of the Year. Once again, the captains stepped up and took control of the game when it mattered with big shots and two momentum shifting dunks. 

“(Phil and Eric) are NBA dudes, said coach Howard. “Those are the guys that have been through it”. 

The Cats will return home and move their focus to their next game of the Big 5 rodeo when they square off with Temple on Dec. 5 at 8:30 P.M. in the Finneran Pavilion.