SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP)—No. 11 Villanova went from its worst game handling the ball to its best, then used its defense to shut down Notre Dame to turn a close game into a blowout.
With the Fighting Irish up by four points, the Wildcats took control with runs of 10-2 and 16-1 in the second half to win 77-60 on Monday night and keep alive their hopes of getting a double bye in the first round of the Big East tournament.
“That was the best defensive game we played all year,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said.
The Wildcats held Notre Dame to 36 percent shooting in the second half, holding the Irish without a field goal for nearly seven minutes. The Wildcats also turned the ball over a season-low five times after over a season-high 20 turnovers in a loss to Georgetown on Saturday.
Wright credited the heart of his seniors.
“We have a clunker like Saturday, but they never quit. They always come back,” Wright said. “This group has always been like this.”
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said the Wildcats were simply too quick.
“Their speed was difficult for us to guard when they made their run in the second half,” he said.
Scottie Reynolds scored 23 points, Dante Cunningham added 18 and eight rebounds to lead the Wildcats (24-6, 12-5) and Shane Clark added 13 points.
Wright said it was Reynolds’ best game as a point guard this season.
“I didn’t see his stats, I don’t have to,” Wright said. “He just controlled the game,” he said.
Reynolds made all four 3-pointers he took in the second half, finishing 6-of-7.
“I told Coach Wright in the first half, they were backing off and every time, I could come down and shoot the 3, but I wanted to get the ball moving and make them play defense,” he said. “In the second half, I just hit one and it came and came. It was just in the flow of the game.”
Ryan Ayers led the Irish with 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting, including 7-of-10 from 3-point range. Luke Harangody added 18 points and seven rebounds.
The loss ensures the Irish (16-13, 7-10) will finish with a losing league record and will likely need to win the Big East tournament to earn a third straight NCAA tournament berth. Brey didn’t want to talk about that after the game.
“There is a postseason for this basketball team,” Brey said. “We’ll see what it is.”
Villanova took a 49-45 lead when a 16-foot jumper by Cunningham hit the back of the rim, bounced high and fell in with 12:21 left, capping the 10-2 run. Reynolds hit a pair of 3s during the run.
Two minutes later, the Wildcats extended the lead to 58-50 after a rebound basket by Clark and a 3-pointer by Reggie Redding.
Then, Redding added another 3, Clark hit a 15-foot jumper and Dwayne Anderson punctuated the final run with a slam dunk to give Villanova a 67-51 lead with 4:50 left.
“That was just us playing together and moving the ball,” Cunningham said. “We did a great job of everybody getting good shots and understanding where everybody was comfortable.”