PHILADELPHIA, PA. 12/10/2017 – There were two teams coming into the game following different directions. The #4 Villanova Wildcats were coming off a big victory over Gonzaga at Madison Square Garden. The La Salle Explorers lost a home game to Drexel. What does that mean? Absolutely nothing. Each game is different, and this is a Big Five game. In the end Villanova made more individual plays and would grind out a 77 – 68 win over La Salle at the Wells Fargo Center in a game that was closer than the score indicated.
“These Big Five teams know us, they know the players.,” said Villanova Coach Jay Wright. “It was a close game. It came down to the end. Booth made some big time plays, Donte (DiVincenzo) made some big time plays, individual plays at the end.”
Those individual efforts were the difference. Each time the Wildcats would create separation, the Explorers would come right back. With just under four minutes to play and leading by 64 – 62 Nova guard Donte DiVincenzio nailed a three-pointer. After two free throws by Explorer guard Amar Stukes, the game would come down to an individual play for Nova. With 2:40 on the clock Phil Booth missed a three-pointer. Mikal Bridges got the rebound, but missed the tip in attempt. He stayed with the play, got a rebound off his miss, then converted the layup at the 2:34 mark to give Villanova a 71 – 64 lead and control of the game.
“Another big play,” said Wright. “Mikal took the shot, missed it, got right back up and tapped it in. That was a big play.”
DiVincenzio led the Wildcats with a team-high tying 18 points. He also added 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the season, and got a career-high tying 4 steals. Fellow backcourt mate Phil Booth also had 18 counters making all 7 from the free throw line. The team would need each contribution from every player.
“We were trying to play our way, but they had a great game plan,” said DiVincenzo. “We had to gut it out, grind it out. They took away what we were trying to do and made us play one-on-one. We had to grind it out at the end.”
The Explorers stayed in the game by keeping the Wildcats from getting easy scores. They forced Nova into 11 turnovers, 7 off steals.
“We got our team back,” said La Salle Coach Dr. John Giannini about played better defense in this game compared to recent outings. “Today is how we played against Temple, not a bad team, how we played against Miami, not a bad team, and today is how we have been playing.”
But they could not overcome a 27 – 4 deficit from the free throw line.
“They are big and strong and will get to the foul line,” Giannini said. “That was too gigantic to overcome. You can’t overcome a 23-point differential.”
La Salle forward B.J. Johnson scored a game-high 21 points and a team-best 7 rebounds. Stukes added 16 points and 6 assists. It was the third time this season he broke-double figures.
“It felt good to get my shots going,” said Stukes. “This was a big stage and they were playing B.J. and Pookie (Powell) hard leaving me open, so I had to make my shots.”
La Salle is 5 – 6 overall and is 2 – 1 in the Big Five. The Explorers get a week off before Mercer comes to visit.
Villanova improves to 10 – 0 and is 3 – 0 in the city series. The Wildcats have won 21 straight Big Five games and will wrap up city play on Wednesday at Temple.
“My Dad is from Philly and a Big Five fan, so I knew about these games,” said Booth. “We know how competitive these games are.”
Written By: Glenn Papazian