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Early lead dissipates, does't disappear

AP Photo

Villanova picked up just its second road win of the season in Piscataway, New Jersey as they downed the Scarlet Knights, 77-71. The Wildcats built another big lead in the first half, going into halftime with a 16-point margin, but folded to the Rutgers pressure early in the second half. Villanova never actually lost the lead, however, and fought back once the game got close, staying out ahead. It was their first victory since knocking off Providence at the Pavilion on February 7th.

"The way our season is going, any win is a good win," head coach Jay Wright said after the win. "This was just a good team win for us. We weren't pretty in the second half, especially, but we battled through this and got the win."

Villanova was led by Maalik Wayns and JayVaughn Pinkston, who each scored 18 points in the game. Wayns recorded 8 assists in the game as the Wildcats showed off a passing game in the first half. Wayns was limited in the second half, playing just 28 minutes in the game, after he picked up a 4th foul with about 14 minutes remaining and spent much of the second half on the bench.

Villanova responded well to losing the point guard, extending their lead from 4 points to give them some breathing room.

"Teams are going to make their runs and coach Wright told us to just keep grinding," Ty Johnson told the press conference.

Mouph Yarou scored 10 points, including 6-of-8 shooting from the free-throw line and recored 11 rebounds to record a double-double for the Cats; his 8th of the season. Dominic Cheek was the 4th starter to score in double-digits with 15 points, but just 1 point after the intermission.

James Bell managed to contribute 16 minutes and an important 3 in his first action since injuring his left ankle.

"Out of all the injuries we've had, his [Bell's] is the most severe. He's probably about 50 percent," Wright told reporters.

For Rutgers, Dane Miller led the way with 16 points and 9 rebounds. He had three teammates joining him in double-digits on the scoreboard, Myles Mack with 15, Eli Carter with 14, and Jerome Seagears with 11. Seagears also recorded 7 assists to lead Rutgers from the point.

Gilvydas Biruta finished the game a point short of double-digits with 9, and also grabbed 8 rebounds.

"I congratulated them on a great second half," Rutgers coach Mike Rice said of his team, "but losers only put one half. And that's what we are right now - we're losers."

Carter fouled out with 1:26 left in the game, and his teammate, swingman Mike Poole, joined him with just 22 seconds remaining. Villanova's Wayns also fouled out on a very questionable offensive foul call with 41 seconds left in regulation, but with little time on the clock it proved to be a non-fatal occurrence when Mack fouled and turned the ball over on the next possession.

Villanova shot extremely well in the game, making 50% from the floor and 55.6% from beyond the arc. They were unusually weak from the charity stripe, however, connecting on just 63.3% of those opportunities.

Rutgers made 84.6% of their free throws, but connected on just 23.8% from deep and 35.5% from the floor. Rutgers' ice-cold night from the floor was ultimately their doom. Villanova out rebounded them 36-to-27, though the Scarlet Knights had a slight edge on the offensive glass, 12-to-11.

Villanova improves their record to 12-17 overall and 5-12 in the Big East with one regular season contest and the Big East tournament remaining. Villanova will next host Cincinnati at the Pavilion on Saturday afternoon before heading to New York City on Tuesday for the Big East tournament.