ROSEMONT, Ill. — Fatigue? Traveling blues? A short bench?
Second-ranked Villanova could’ve copped to any of those excuses after Monday night’s 75-62 win at DePaul, but why bother?
“Any road win in this league is a good win,” coach Jay Wright said. “We’ve watched this team all year. They don’t quit, they keep playing and tonight they did.
“It wasn’t always pretty.”
But, like he said, it still was a win.
The shorthanded Wildcats (25-2, 12-2 Big East) clamped down defensively in the first half to take a 39-18 lead to intermission and cruised home from there despite seven second-half turnovers and several scoreless stretches that allowed the host Blue Demons to chip away at a lead that crested at 27 points (see Instant Replay).
Even with just seven players — Darryl Reynolds missed a second straight game with a rib injury — the Wildcats refused to shrug off the occasional miscues.
“We just got sloppy,” Wright said. “We didn’t focus on details and [DePaul] kept playing hard. You’ve got to give them credit.”
Point guard Jalen Brunson earned some credit, too, after pacing the Wildcats’ early dominance.
The sophomore, playing in front of several fans who watched him play high school ball in Chicago’s northern suburbs, had 12 points, three assists, three steals and took a charge in the opening half, which included an 11-1 run that turned the game into a rout.
“I really don’t think they’ve lost a step [at point guard],” DePaul coach Dave Leitao said of Brunson, referring to the graduation of Ryan Arcidiacono. “He opened up the book tonight in the first half and pretty much wrote what he wanted.”
Brunson said the homecoming took a backseat to getting another win.
“Every goal for me is to be a leader when I step on the court,” he said. “I just had to set a tone defensively.
“Offense just came to me.”
He finished with 18 points and four assists while Josh Hart added 16 points and Mikal Bridges chipped in 15.
Kris Jenkins added 13 points and eight rebounds and joined Bridges and Brunson in playing at least 34 minutes.
The Wildcats also helped stymie the Blue Demons (8-18, 1-12) by locking down defensively and allowing just seven opening-half field goals. Two were three-point heaves to beat the shot clock.
“In those first 20 minutes, they methodically go about their business,” Leitao said. “Even with a short bench, they play really, really well together.
“You’ve got to play on top of your game and that first half, we did anything but. We were frozen on offense.”
DePaul also coughed up the ball nine times — four on Villanova steals — to yield a dozen Wildcat points in the opening half.
The Blue Demons found a smidgen of offensive punch in the second half but never threatened to get back into the game. Villanova turned the ball over seven times in the second half and ended the game with a 38-32 deficit on the glass, but the defending national champions didn’t waste time nitpicking.
“There was no fatigue,” Hart said. “We played a great first half.
“We’ve just got to get back to work tomorrow and keep working to be the best team we can be at the end of the year.”
The Wildcats finish the three-game road swing Saturday afternoon at Seton Hall.