DiVincenzo, Booth rally No. 4 Villanova past La Salle 77-68
PHILADELPHIA (AP) Duke’s run at No. 1 ended with a court-storming loss at Boston College and No. 2 Kansas wilted in a rare home loss.
Undaunted and undefeated, Villanova is charging toward the top spot.
”We played the next No. 1 team in the country,” La Salle coach John Giannini said Sunday.
The Explorers got a taste of how tough it can be to knock off the Wildcats. La Salle scored more baskets, sank more 3-pointers, had more steals and still was just another victim in Villanova’s unbeaten season.
Phil Booth scored 18 points and Donte DiVincenzo had 18 points and 10 rebounds to help the fourth-ranked Wildcats avoid an upset in a 77-68 win over La Salle.
”They don’t have bad games,” Giannini said.
This was as close as one gets for the Wildcats (10-0). They were sloppy – throwing the ball away several times on outlet passes – slumped from the 3-point line and could not shake the pesky Explorers until the final minutes of the game to win their 21st straight Big 5 game.
The Wildcats had depth and a massive edge from the free-throw line to sink the Explorers. La Salle (5-6) was a two-man show in B.J Johnson and Amar Stukes, and that was enough to give them a 62-61 lead with 4:47 left.
But the Wildcats had Booth and DiVincenzo, and Jalen Brunson scored 17 and Mikal Bridges, quiet all game, came to life for crucial baskets late to seal the win. Throw in the whopping disparity from the line – Villanova made 27 of 35, La Salle was 4 of 5 – and the Wildcats made their case for why they should fight it out with No 3. Michigan State (9-1) to become the new No. 1 team in the AP Top 25.
”It’s a great lesson for our guys. The score isn’t always what the game is really about,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said.
Booth put the Wildcats ahead with three free throws and followed with an assist on DiVincenzo’s 3-pointer that made it 67-62 and finally gave them a bit of breathing room. Bridges, coming off a career-high 28 points against Gonzaga, went inside for a pair of tough buckets and a 71-64 lead that brought the Villanova fans to their feet.
”These guys have played in these games. They’re not surprised,” Wright said.
Johnson led the Explorers with 21 points and Stukes had 16 to help keep slim hopes alive of pulling off a stunner. The duo combined to hit seven 3-pointers and carried La Salle to the brink of victory.
”When we’re out there and we started making plays, we felt like we could do that against anybody,” Stukes said. ”The shots started falling. We just had to play defense.”
The Wildcats beat No. 12 Gonzaga by 16 points this week at Madison Square Garden and were expected to roll against the Explorers at the Wells Fargo Center. The foundation for their perfect record had come from the 3-point line; the Wildcats hit a school-record 19 against Saint Joseph’s and buried 10 against the Zags. Against the Explorers, the 3s dried up in the first half. Villanova missed its first six attempts and missed eight of 10 overall in the half.
La Salle went the opposite direction in the first half. Shooting a miserable 29 percent from 3-point range this season, the Explorers went 6 of 12 to take a 38-37 lead. Stukes hit two straight 3s and his bucket a tick before the horn gave La Salle the lead at the break.
Villanova, Ls Salle, Saint Joseph’s, Temple and Penn make up the city series field. The Wildcats have emerged as the class of the city and haven’t been defeated by a Philadelphia-area team since Temple won on Dec. 5, 2012.
La Salle: The Explorers lost for the 15th time in the last 16 games against Villanova. But a lot of teams lose all the time to `Nova. It’s what the Explorers do from here that will define their season. They have two more nonconference games to shape up before they open the Atlantic 10 season Dec. 30 against St. Louis. The Explorers haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2013 and will need more consistent performances like they had in the first half to get there again this season.
Villanova: The Wildcats win again. Even when the score is close, the outcome never seems in doubt against a city school. Los Angeles Lakers rookie Josh Hart, one of the stars of the 2016 national championship team, sat courtside and earned a standing ovation as the alum of the game. He trash-talked Johnson in the second half and laughed when the La Salle forward buried a bucket after their exchange.
Villanova played without G Collin Gillespie because of a left wrist injury suffered in practice. Wright said Gillespie could miss up to a month.
La Salle: Hosts Mercer on Sunday.
Villanova: The Wildcats finish the Big 5 season Wednesday at Temple.
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