VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP)—Villanova coach Jay Wright has always worried about his team’s first game after final exams. Those concerns turned out to be valid Monday night.
Dante Cunningham had 24 points and 10 rebounds and Scottie Reynolds added 23 points as the 18th-ranked Wildcats struggled in a 78-68 victory over Navy.
Corey Stokes had 11 points and Antonio Pena contributed a career-high 12 rebounds for the Wildcats (11-1), who played their first game in eight days since winning at city rival La Salle on Dec. 14.
“That’s an excuse that we really take pride in not allowing to happen,” Wright said of the layoff after final exams. “We hear it all the time. We practice to avoid it happening. We’ve seen it happen to other teams.”
Chris Harris had career highs of eight 3-pointers and 30 points for the Midshipmen (8-4), while Kaleo Kina added 15 points.
“Harris was just great,” Wright said. “Once you get a guy like that going early, it’s tough to stop him.”
Harris’ sixth 3-pointer cut Villanova’s lead to 29-26 with 3:58 remaining in the first half. But the Wildcats scored the next eight points on the way to a 37-28 halftime lead.
During halftime, a number of former Villanova players and coaches were honored, including Rollie Massimino, who guided the Wildcats to the national championship in 1985.
They nearly witnessed a monumental upset.
For a while, it seemed as if Navy might beat a Big East team for the first time since Nov. 26, 1996, when it defeated Pittsburgh 60-49.
Navy hadn’t played against a ranked team since Jan. 7, 2002, when it lost 87-65 to No. 23 Wake Forest. The Midshipmen last defeated a ranked team on March 16, 1986, when they won 97-85 at No. 9 Syracuse in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Adam Teague hit a long 3-pointer to cut the lead to 65-61 with 4:41 remaining and a free throw by Kina made it 67-64 with 2:38 left.
“Once it got to that point, we had to step up and make some big shots,” Reynolds said.
Two free throws by Pena and one by Cunningham extended the lead to 70-64.
“I’m proud of our guys’ effort,” said Navy coach Billy Lange, who was an assistant under Wright from 2001-04. “We came in here believing we could win. I’m encouraged by the progress that we’re making.”
Villanova has another big break between games as it will next host Big 5 foe Temple on Dec. 29.