PHILADELPHIA (AP)—Dante Cunningham was in early foul trouble and on the bench. La Salle had a packed crowd fired up and was poised to make a run with Villanova’s leading scorer out of the way.
Corey Stokes and Scottie Reynolds ended any thoughts of an upset with a 3-point show that helped the Wildcats roll to another routine city series win.
Stokes scored 18 points, Reynolds had 13 and they combined for 7 3-pointers to lead No. 15 Villanova to a 70-59 victory over La Salle on Sunday night.
Coach Jay Wright needed his backcourt to deliver with Cunningham watching from the bench.
“That really concerned us,” Wright said. “We hadn’t been in that position before.”
The Wildcats (10-1) won their second straight game against a Philadelphia city school and seem to have another local Big 5 championship wrapped up.
The Wildcats led by 10 points at halftime without much production from Cunningham, their 6-foot-8 forward. Cunningham averages 17.5 points and 8.0 rebounds, but was held scoreless in the first half and grabbed only one rebound in 7 minutes. He scored nine points in the second half to help Villanova win for the 17th time in its last 18 city series games.
Rodney Green and Kimmani Barrett each scored 16 points for the Explorers (4-4), who had a three-game winning streak snapped.
The Wildcats were slow to get rolling, perhaps feeling a bit drained after a nine-point loss to No. 6 Texas then coming back two days later to beat Saint Joseph’s in a tight and emotionally charged game. The Explorers, who haven’t beat Villanova since 2001, made their shots early and kept close with their ranked rivals.
Reynolds said Villanova would never use tough back-to-back games as an excuse for a sluggish start.
“When you step out there, it doesn’t matter,” he said.
Two huge swats from 6-9 La Salle forward Vernon Goodridge knocked away two of Reynolds’ shots and sent the guard flying along with the ball. The blocks and the 18-all score had the rare sellout crowd at Tom Gola Arena going wild, as most of the 4,000 fans came hopeful of an upset.
La Salle’s good feelings didn’t last long.
Stokes nailed three 3-pointers and Reynolds hit one during an 18-1 run. With Cunningham on the bench with two fouls, the long-distance shooting was exactly what Villanova needed to push back pesky La Salle.
Reynolds hit consecutive 3s early in the second half for a 14-point lead and Reggie Redding hit his only 3 of the game to make it 58-39.
“I think our defensive pressure helped us,” Stokes said. “We forced turnovers and that allowed us to go run. Coach told us to keep it up.”
Coach John Giannini’s Explorers gave Connecticut fits in an eight-point loss last month and gamely tried to rally against another Big East power.
Barrett’s 3-pointer with 4:34 left sliced it to 62-51, but the rally flickered out. La Salle committed 15 turnovers to only eight for Villanova and shot 38 percent from the floor.
Giannini looked hard at the box score with 15 turnovers and only nine assists, shook his head and said, “For us, it’s just another night.”
“Sometimes you have to see it hurt you,” Giannini said. “It was a key factor in us being noncompetitive.”
With Reynolds and Stokes leading the way, the Wildcats shot 50 percent from 3-point range. Stokes and Reynolds went a combined 7-for-12 from 3-point range.
“They played Connecticut tough, they played Florida State tough,” Wright said. “It wasn’t pretty, but it’s a Big 5 game and we’ll take it.”