Eric Paschall scored 24 points and Phil Booth connected in the clutch to lead Villanova to its 17th straight win over DePaul, 73-68 on Wednesday night.
The national champion Wildcats (10-4) won their Big East opener and haven’t lost to the Blue Demons since Jan. 3, 2008. The Blue Demons have failed to make an NCAA Tournament over that span while the Wildcats have ascended to the rare air of top programs in the country over the last 11 years.
It was hard to tell which team was the traditional Big East power for most of the first 32 minutes.
Villanova’s national championship banner hangs above the court and the Big East Tournament trophy sparkles in a display case. But lost in the celebration of the 2018 accolades was the fact that Villanova failed to win the Big East regular-season crown for the first time since 2013. Xavier snapped the four-year run of Villanova’s romp through the conference — and the Wildcats aren’t playing this season much like a team capable of reclaiming their crown.
Yes, the Wildcats rallied from a 14-point hole to beat DePaul and boost coach Jay Wright’s career mark against the Blue Demons to 19-2. But can they survive those deficits against the top teams in the Big East for the rest of the season?
Booth, star of two national title teams, gives the Wildcats a shot. He shook off a slow start and buried a 3 with 7:54 left for Villanova’s first lead of the game, 58-56. Booth was fouled on a 3-point attempt and sank all three from the free-throw line to make it 63-59. Booth added another 3 late to keep the cushion at six.
Booth and Saddiq Bey had 15 points. The Wildcats made 11 of 32 3-pointers.
Eli Cain willed DePaul (8-5, 0-2) to an early lead with 14 points in the first half and wilted in the second when he scored only two. Max Strus also scored 16 points for DePaul.
The Blue Demons led 30-16 and became the latest longshot to rattle the Wildcats in their $65 million renovated home court. Michigan and Furman sent Villanova to consecutive home losses. The Wildcats were also upset by Penn just down the interstate at the Palestra.
The Wildcats were expected to experience a transition season after losing four players from the title team to the NBA. But the hardships have been greater than expected. Wright has shortened his rotation and played five players for at least 16 minutes in the first half. The Wildcats have always used 3-point bursts to slice leads and got them late from Paschall, Bey and Jahvon Quinerly that pulled them to 38-34 at the half.
DePaul: Cain moved into 20th place on DePaul’s career scoring list. The Blue Demons have lost three straight games.
Villanova: Looked rusty following a 10-day break. Guard Collin Gillespie returned after a one-game absence with a head injury.
DePaul hosts Seton Hall on Sunday.
Villanova plays Saturday at Providence.
Source: The Associated Press