With several players lighting it up from 3-point range, No. 14 Villanova seized control early in the second half for an 86-74 Big East victory over DePaul on Wednesday night at Wintrust Arena.
Redshirt senior forward Eric Paschall posted a game-high 20 points, freshman forward Saddiq Bey recorded his first double-double (16 points, 11 rebounds) and redshirt senior guard Phil Booth added 19 points and a career-high-tying eight assists for the Wildcats (17-4, 8-0).
Villanova buried 15 of 35 3-point attempts to earn its ninth straight win and remain a half-game ahead of Marquette in the two-team conference race.
“We just came in here and gutted it out,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “It was not pretty at all.”
Graduate transfer center Femi Olujobi posted 20 points and eight rebounds while senior guard Eli Cain added 17 points for DePaul (11-9, 3-6), which dropped its third game in a row.
When Cain swished a stepback 3-pointer in front of Villanova’s bench at the first-half buzzer, he pulled the Blue Demons within 40-36 at the break.
Instead of providing the Blue Demons with momentum, Cain’s shot seemed to shock Villanova into focus. The Wildcats blitzed DePaul 11-2 in the opening 2:34 of the second half as sophomore guard Collin Gillespie (12 points), Paschall and Bey drilled 3-pointers.
When Booth rattled home a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 11:45 to go, Villanova owned a 66-53 lead and improved to 7 of 9 from 3-point range for the half and 13 of 25 for the night.
DePaul waited too late to make its run. The Blue Demons got as close as 75-66 on a pair of Olujobi free throws with 3:43 left, but Gillespie responded within an unguarded 3-pointer. Max Strus canned a 3-pointer to get DePaul within 78-71, but Paschall answered by attacking the rim and earning two free throws.
Booth set the tone during a breakneck first half. When he wasn’t busy burying 3-pointers, he was getting to the center of DePaul’s defense and making things happen. He forced DePaul coach Dave Leitao to take a timeout with eight minutes left in the half when he gave Villanova a 31-22 lead with a turnaround in the post followed by a driving floater.
In the second half, Booth turned into a distributor as he handed out five assists after the break as Villanova committed just one turnover in the half and three for the game.
—Field Level Media