It’s hard to find fault with a team that’s undefeated and winning by nearly 24 points per game.
But with Villanova heading into a pair of tournament games at the Palestra starting Friday night against Towson, coach Jay Wright wants his team to play hard the entire 40 minutes.
In Tuesday’s 71-48 win against Monmouth in their first game of the Philly Hoop Group Classic, the Wildcats held the Hawks to 13 points in the first half, only to get outscored 35-26 in the final 20 minutes.
“I thought we played a great first half,” said Wright, who is 10-4 at the Palestra with Villanova. “I thought we paid attention to detail. We’ve got to keep our concentration longer. I think that’s the challenge.”
No. 20 Villanova (4-0) has outscored its opponents by an average of 18.0 points in the first half. The second half, though, has not been as one-sided, with the Wildcats scoring an average of 5.8 points more than their opponents.
“Coach Wright always talks about playing 40 minutes of basketball,” said sophomore guard Corey Stokes, who hit a career-high five 3s on 11 attempts and scored a season-best 18 points against Monmouth. “We’ve just got to keep pushing.”
They also need to start shooting the ball better. After hitting 56.8 percent of their shots in wins against Albany and Fordham, the Wildcats have made a combined 43.9 percent versus Niagara and Monmouth.
Senior forward Dante Cunningham, however, is shooting a career-best 63.0 percent from the floor. His 52.9 percent (9-of-17) shooting effort against the Hawks was his worst of the season.
Cunningham, who was named Philadelphia Big Five co-player of the week, leads the Wildcats in scoring and rebounding with 18.5 and 6.8 per game, respectively.
Junior center Casiem Drummond is expected to be available on Friday after serving a one-game suspension for what Wright referred to as a minor disciplinary issue.
Towson (3-1) was the beneficiary of a player returning from suspension on Monday when Junior Hairston had 13 points in its 61-48 win against the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Hairston, who led the Tigers in scoring and rebounding last season, was suspended the first three games for violating a team rule.
Freshman forward Calvin Lee had a season-high 13 points with a team-best eight rebounds, and Tigers leading scorer Jarrel Smith, who is averaging 14.5 points, added 10 as Towson tied its best four-game start since 1999-2000. Still, coach Pat Kennedy was unhappy with his team’s 39.1 percent shooting and inability to extend its lead against a team that’s lost 36 in a row and won’t be a full member of Division I until next season.
“We didn’t come to play tonight,” he told the school’s official Web site. “We got to snap out of it. We’ve got to get more mature quickly.”
Villanova has won all three previous matchups with Towson, most recently an 87-75 victory on Nov. 26, 2000. The winner plays either Penn State or Rhode Island on Saturday night in the tournament finale.