Hart scores 19, No. 8 Villanova beats Rider 88-67
VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP)
With his team coming off its break for final exams and a showdown against No. 2 Syracuse looming next week, Villanova coach Jay Wright had a couple of major concerns heading into Saturday's game against Rider.
As has been the case all season, it turned out he had nothing to worry about.
Led by a career-high 19 points off the bench from freshman Josh Hart, No. 8 Villanova remained perfect with an 88-67 rout of Rider.
One of a dozen unbeaten teams remaining in Division I, the Wildcats (11-0) are off to their best start since the 1961-62 team won its first 12.
''That's a great start, man,'' Wright said. ''I'm very proud of that. There have been a lot of great teams here at Villanova. I didn't realize it was that long ago. I'm happy for these guys and I'm happy for our program.''
JayVaughn Pinkston added 14 points for Villanova, which shot 50 percent from the field in its final non-conference home game of the season.
The Wildcats now put their unbeaten record on the line against former Big East rival Syracuse next Saturday at the Carrier Dome, before opening their Big East slate on the road against Butler three days later.
The No. 2 Orange are also undefeated at 11-0.
''Everyone's been talking about the Syracuse game,'' Wright said. ''It's really a pleasure to coach guys who can focus on the next game and have respect for their opponent. That's what we did today.''
The visiting Broncs managed to hang around for much of the first half, pulling within five with 4:41 left until halftime on a pair of free throws from Taylor.
But the Wildcats closed the half on a 16-7 spurt, capped by a 3-pointer from Tony Chennault in the final seconds, to take a comfortable 43-29 lead into the break.
''I thought Villanova did a really good job of taking us out of some of the things we wanted to get accomplished,'' Rider coach Kevin Baggett said. ''Those guys are really good. They're definitely being worthy of being ranked eighth in the country.''
Villanova's pressure rattled Rider as the Wildcats extended their lead even further in the second half.
With just under 15 minutes to go, Darrun Hilliard stole the ball from Shawn Valentine in the backcourt and finished with a slam to give Villanova a 56-35 advantage.
Hilliard finished with 13 points and has scored in double figures in all but one game this season.
''We're not going to take a step back,'' Hilliard said. ''We'll wait until March or April to relax.''
Hart shot 7 for 8 from the floor and 3 for 4 from 3-point range, scoring 14 points after the break. The freshman finished an acrobatic drive with just under 13 minutes remaining to put Villanova ahead 60-35.
The Wildcats led by as many 27 before emptying their bench with one minute left.
''I'm feeding off my teammates,'' Hart said. ''They're just finding me in good spots to score.''
Hart is averaging 9.5 points in 22 minutes per game this season. He has been one of his coach's most pleasant surprises.
''We've got guys who've been through a lot and they spend the time teaching our young guys,'' Wright said. ''That helps our freshmen.''
Hart wasn't the only reserve player to have a big game as Villanova got 40 points from its bench.
For Wright, having a deep roster is one major reason why the Wildcats have outscored their opposition by an average of nearly 18 points per game this season and have already picked up marquee wins over No. 18 Kansas and No. 25 Iowa.
''I think that's going to be something over the course of the season that can really be valuable to us,'' Wright said. ''We really haven't been shooting the ball great from 3 but what has been consistent is our bench contribution every night. It's been different guys. Most nights we're getting a lot of production off the bench.''
Villanova owns a 24-1 all-time record against Rider, with the Broncs' only win coming in 1944, and is 49-2 in its last 51 non-conference games at home.