PHILADELPHIA (AP) Collin Gillespie scored 13 points in a balanced team effort, and No. 7 Villanova beat La Salle 72-46 on Sunday night.
Brandon Slater added 12 points and Caleb Daniels and Eric Dixon each had 11 for the Wildcats (4-2), who played for the first time since a Nov. 21 loss to No. 3 Purdue.
Villanova started the game with a dominating first half, during which the Wildcats outscored La Salle 42-17.
''I loved our defense in the first half, I really did,'' Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. ''And it got us easy baskets.''
Khalil Brantley scored 17 points and Jhamir Brickus had 13 for La Salle (2-3), which had just one assist on 14 field goals.
The Wildcats jumped out to a 9-0 lead as the Explorers missed their first six shots and committed a pair of turnovers.
Villanova eventually grew the first-half lead to as many as 30 points, 39-9, on Slater's driving layup with 4:23 left before the break. La Salle had missed 16 of 18 shots and had seven turnovers at that point.
Brantley had 12 points and was 3 of 6 from the field in the first half, while the rest of the Explorers were a combined 1 for 20.
''We struggled to score the ball, and we never recovered from not starting the game off with some pop on offense,'' La Salle coach Ashley Howard said. ''The thing that's difficult is you're playing Villanova. So if you're playing anybody else and the ball doesn't go in, you know it may be a game at halftime where it's 19-18 and you just get stops and keep the game within reach.''
BACK IN THE BIG 5
Sunday's game was the first Big 5 game at the Palestra since Penn's 66-59 win over Temple on Jan. 25, 2020. In addition to La Salle and Villanova, the Big 5 is comprised of Philadelphia schools Temple, St. Joseph's and Penn.
''I think we all cherish being part of that,'' Wright said before the game.
Villanova's Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree played for the first time this season and had two points and two rebounds in six minutes. Leg injuries have sidelined Cosby-Roundtree for much of his career. After missing all of last season, he was expected to sit this season as well. But with non-COVID-19 sickness moving through Villanova's team, Wright indicated prior to the game that Cosby-Roundtree would dress Sunday and might be needed.
Sure enough, he entered at 6:16 into the first half to a loud ovation from the visiting Villanova contingent. He promptly got a rebound and scored his first basket 39 seconds after coming in.
''He wasn't supposed to be able to do this,'' Wright said. ''For not playing for a year and a half, I thought he looked really good.''
Said Cosby-Roundtree, ''I was really excited. I still couldn't believe that it was going to happen.''
Villanova: The Wildcats continue the Philadelphia part of their schedule in their next two games: Wednesday back at the Palestra against Penn, and Saturday's home game against St. Joseph's. While both the Quakers and Hawks are unranked, Wright knows the local rivalries aren't easy wins.
''They're always difficult (pre-conference) games,'' Wright said. ''People outside (of Philadelphia) don't count that but we do. We know.''
La Salle: The Explorers were picked to finish 12th in the 14-team Atlantic 10. They are looking for their first plus-.500 season in Howard's fourth season and have a chance to build momentum heading into their first conference contest on Dec. 30 against Fordham with upcoming nonconference matchups versus Holy Cross (Dec. 4), Fairleigh Dickinson (Dec. 7) and Bucknell (Dec. 18).
Sunday also was the first Big 5 game at the Palestra since the passing of longtime Associated Press correspondent Jack Scheuer. A member of the Big 5 Hall of Fame, Scheuer covered the local college basketball scene and pro sport for decades. He also is the unofficial leading scorer in Palestra history after converting countless buckets with his set shot during the weekly media lunchtime pickup game he organized and ran for many years.
La Salle: At Temple on Wednesday.
Villanova: At Penn on Wednesday.
More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25