VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP)—In between studying for final exams, Villanova had eight days to prepare for Ivy League foe Columbia.
Both tasks turned out to be challenging.
Shane Clark scored 15 points and Scottie Reynolds added 14 as No. 20 Villanova built an early 22-point lead before fending off the pesky Lions, 72-56 on Saturday night.
Dante Cunningham added nine points and 12 rebounds for the Wildcats (9-1), who won their fifth game in a row and defeated the Lions for the fourth straight time.
“It’s been a battle on and off the court,” said Cunningham, who reached double figures in rebounding for the third time in the last four games. “After a battle with the books, it was a battle on the court every day in practice.”
Villanova’s only loss came Nov. 25, a 69-68 setback against North Carolina State in the championship game of the Old Spice Classic in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
“I think we have a chance to be a very good team,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said.
K.J. Matsui scored 19 points—including six 3-pointers—and John Baumann added 13 for Columbia (4-7), which is coached by former Villanova assistant Joe Jones. Columbia still hasn’t defeated a team from the Big East since a 58-54 victory over Seton Hall in 1985-86.
Villanova jumped out to a 12-0 lead and breezed to a 41-24 halftime advantage.
“I thought I was going to run to the bus after the first five minutes,” Jones said.
Clark connected on back-to-back 3-pointers in the first 2:04 of the second half to make it 47-26.
Columbia, which was 20-of-56 from the field, slowly cut the lead to 62-52 with 5:16 remaining on a basket by Ben Nwachukwu. But the Lions got no closer than 10 the rest of the way.
“I thought we defended better in the second half,” Jones said. “They’re (Villanova) so talented offensively. Their freshmen are so good.”
In the first half, the Wildcats led by 22 on three occasions because of some hot shooting. They hit 15-of-28 from the field, including 6-of-13 from beyond the 3-point arc.
Villanova outrebounded Columbia, 39-27, and held a big advantage in the category thanks to Cunningham.
“He’s amazing,” Wright said of Cunningham. “He’s very, very talented and he’s tough. I can see it’s (rebounding) important to him.”