Delaware (0-2), which fell to 0-10 all-time against the Wildcats (3-0) and has never beaten a Big East team since the conference was formed in 1979, was led by sophomore guard Devon Saddler, who poured in a game-high 27.
Villanova looked like it would cruise to an easy victory at the outset. The Wildcats led by double figures through most of the first half and were up 40-24 after a Mouphtaou Yarou basket in the first minute of the second half.
But the Blue Hens wouldn’t go away that easily. Delaware kept chipping away, behind Saddler and the freshman tandem of Kyle Anderson and Jarvis Threat. The trio combined for 50 of the Blue Hens’ 69 points.
What looked easy for Villanova, which started three juniors, a sophomore and a freshman, suddenly took on a different dimension. With 15:25 left to play, Threat rose up and canned a 3-point shot pulling Delaware to within 44-40, the closest the Blue Hens were since the opening minutes of the game.
The Wildcats responded with some stifling defense and Cheek began to sizzle from 3-point range. He finished with 21 points, 19 coming in the second half, and two crucial 3-pointers, one with 6:44 left that gave the Wildcats a 64-53 edge.
Villanova held off a few charges by Delaware, which drew within eight several times, the latest 73-65 on a Saddler driving tear drop with 1:33 to play.
Villanova took a 38-24 lead into intermission, thanks to a buzzer-beating layup by Cheek. The 14-point advantage equaled the largest Wildcats difference in the half (a Wayns 3-pointer gave Villanova a 30-16 lead with 3:20 remaining in the half).
The first 20 minutes was really a one-man show, all belonging to the Wildcats’ 6-foot-10 Yarou. He was responsible for nine of Villanova’s first 12 points and closed the half with 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting. Yarou was complemented by Wayns, who went into intermission with 13 points, most coming from his 5-for-6 shooting from the line.
Yarou and Wayns combined for 28 of the Wildcats’ 38 first-half points.
Delaware never led. Saddler was a shining point for the Blue Hens. Villanova would score, and Saddler would come roaring back up the court trying to penetrate the Wildcats’ defense. He concluded the half with a team-high 12 points, and his three-point play with 3:02 left in the half kept the Blue Hens within a reasonable distance of Villanova, trailing 30-19.