Villanova 75, DePaul 67
NEW YORK (AP)—Scottie Reynolds hit free throw after free throw down the stretch, showing the poise of a postseason-tested veteran.
The freshman guard stepped up as Villanova’s big playmaker, scoring 29 points and making eight free throws in the last 4 minutes to lead the ninth-seeded Wildcats to a 75-67 victory over No. 8 seed DePaul in the opening round of the Big East tournament Wednesday.
“I was just trying to be aggressive,” Reynolds said. “A switch kind of turned on in me where I wanted to be more aggressive on the ball. It ended up where I was going to the line, and, you know, it worked out.”
Curtis Sumpter added 25 points and the Wildcats (22-9) won their fourth straight, advancing to play top-seeded Georgetown (23-6) in the second round Thursday. The Hoyas, who received a first-round bye, and the Wildcats split their two regular-season meetings.
“We’ve just had two great games,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “This is going to be a battle, man. That’s what it’s all about when you get here.”
Sammy Mejia scored 20 points, and Wilson Chandler and Draelon Burns each had 18 for DePaul (18-13), which was playing in its first Big East tournament after joining the conference last season.
“You’ve got to make open shots, and we didn’t make them,” DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright said. “It’s not a magic game. They were more efficient than we were. They took advantage.”
Reynolds was outstanding with senior guard Mike Nardi sidelined for most of the game with a left ankle injury. Nardi was injured in the first half of the Wildcats’ victory over Syracuse on Saturday, and only played 5 minutes in this one.
But Reynolds made sure Nardi wasn’t completely missed. He shot 6-of-19 from the field, including 4-of-11 from 3-point range, and was 13-of-16 from the foul line to tie a Villanova record for points in the Big East tournament. Kerry Kittles also scored 29 against Providence on March 11, 1995.
“Scottie knows what he’s doing and he can run the show,” Wright said.
Villanova led 28-26 at halftime, but came out shooting to start the second half. The Wildcats took a 39-28 lead—their biggest—on an 11-2 run that included two 3-pointers by Sumpter and another by Reggie Redding.
The Blue Demons kept chipping away, getting within three points three times, but just couldn’t make any big stops on the Wildcats.
“Somehow we have to figure out a way to come up aggressive and match the other team’s intensity because I think that was the difference in the game,” Mejia said. “We made a lot of runs when they were up double digits or when they were up and we got close.”
After Mejia got DePaul within five at 57-52 with a layup with 4:48 left, Reynolds made two free throws and then missed a 3 before Chandler hit one of his own to cut the Blue Demons’ deficit to 59-55 with 2:57 left. Redding’s jumper made it 61-55, but Mejia hit two free throws with 2:07 remaining to make it a four-point game.
It was a foul shooting clinic from there, with Villanova going 14-of-18 from the line, including Reynolds’ 6-of-8, as the Wildcats sealed the victory. It was a good thing Villanova was so good from the foul line—33-of-38 compared to DePaul’s 16-of-19—because it shot just 17-of-47 (36.2 percent) from the field.
“If it does get into a free-throw shooting contest, usually we’re pretty good,” Wright said. “That gave me confidence. We talked about finishing games. If we can get into a position where we’ve got the lead, we’re usually pretty good because our guys shoot well.”
The Wildcats improved to 16-1 this season when they score at least 70 points this season.
Villanova led by as many eight in the first half and was up 25-18 with 5:42 left when DePaul went on a 6-0 run—capped by Burns’ jumper to pull within 25-24 with 3:30 left. After Sumpter’s 3-pointer with 2:08 remaining gave the Wildcats a 28-24 lead, Mejia’s driving layup with just over 2 seconds left made it 28-26 at halftime.
The lead could’ve been a lot bigger for Villanova, which shot just 8-of-25 (32 percent) from the field—including 4-of-11 from 3-point range—in the half. DePaul wasn’t much better, shooting 12-of-31 (38.7 percent) and 1-of-9 on 3s.
The loss puts DePaul on the bubble as far as their NCAA tournament chances, but Wainwright thinks there should be no question whether the Blue Demons deserve a bid.
“I don’t think we’re done playing,” Wainwright said. “We won nine (league) games and we’re in one of the toughest conferences in the country. I would hope our season is not over.”