ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP) — Ryan Arcidiacono and No. 7 Villanova took the Big East lead Saturday — taking advantage of some help from the big snow storm.
Ryan Arcidiacono scored all 18 of his points in the second half to help Villanova beat DePaul 68-55.
Villanova (19-2, 6-2) moved a half-game ahead of Providence atop the conference. After a 3-0 start, DePaul (11-12, 5-5) lost for the fifth time in its last seven conference games.
“In the second half, I just tried to be more aggressive catching the ball and shooting,” said Arcidiacono, who was 5 of 8 from the field in the second half. “Then they feared my jumper and, off that, I was able to get by some guys (on drives). After I made a couple of those, I felt pretty good.”
After an uneven 20 minutes, Villanova was able to shake off the rust of a five-game layoff. DePaul couldn’t overcome the effects of a cramped schedule that saw it play two games in three days in two time zones. The Blue Demons played at Providence on Thursday in a game postponed because of the storm.
“I definitely feel they were at a disadvantage,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. “They caught a tough break having to play that game on Thursday. That’s not easy to come back. ... What was impressive was how they played coming off that, especially how they started the game.”
After the Blue Demons shot 52 percent en route to a 37-31 lead at halftime, they struggled in half-court sets and missed eight of their first nine field goal tries in the second half.
“You got to squeeze it out when you’re a little bit tired, and (Villanova) did,” coach Oliver Purnell said. “They had more energy and more pep to their step in the second half. We were diving on the floor for loose balls and getting a lot of 50-50 balls in the first half. In the second half, they got them.”
The Wildcats opened the second half on a 14-4 tear to turn a six-point deficit into a 45-41 advantage in little more than 7 minutes. Arcidiacono scored eight points in the burst, highlighted by a four-point play that tied the score at 41. Josh Hart followed with a layup to give the Wildcats the lead for good.
JayVaughn Pinkston added 14 points for Villanova, making 10 free throws without a miss. Darrun Hilliard finished with 11 points and three steals.
“In the second half, we settled down and focused on defense,” Pinkston said. “Once we got some stops, we got out on transitions, so I was able to get to the rim and get to the foul line.
Billy Garrett led DePaul with 14 points, but only four came in the second half. He also had eight assists. Tommy Hamilton and Forrest Robinson added nine points apiece.
“They made a conscious effort to get the ball out of Bill’s hands by trapping and switching,” Purnell said. “We didn’t handle it great, that’s for sure, but I thought the key was the difference in our defense in the second half.”
Villanova won the battle of the backboards (35-18) for the first time in four games. It was outrebounded only three times in its previous 17 games.
The Wildcats appeared to show the effects of the five-day layoff and led only briefly in the first half. They trailed 28-17 when Blue Demons forward Jamee Crockett sank a layup with 6:55 left in the half.
In stark contrast to the game between the teams three weeks earlier, DePaul didn’t commit a turnover in the opening 10-plus minutes. In the first matchup, Villanova’s pressure defense forced 15 turnovers in an 81-64 victory at home.
But the Wildcats responded with eight straight points to get back in the game. Reserve guard Phil Booth scored six points and forward Daniel Ochefu added four more in the final 7 minutes of the half, and the visitors were back in the game at the break.
Villanova: Arcidiacono matched his season high in points. His career high is 32 against St. John’s on Jan. 2, 2013. ... The Wildcats were the unanimous pick to win the Big East title in the preseason coaches’ poll, while DePaul was selected to finish in last place. ... Wright spent Friday night watching high school junior Nick Rakocevic from St. Joseph High School in Westchester, a Chicago suburb. Rakocevic is regarded as one of the top prep players in the area. In November, the Wildcats received a commitment from guard Jalen Brunson, a five-star recruit from Stevenson High School in nearby Lincolnshire.
DePaul: Leading scorer Myke Henry was limited to six points, well below his 13.2 average per game. He attempted only six shots. ... Purnell remained winless in seven tries against Villanova as Blue Demons head coach. The last six defeats were by 13 points or more. . . The Blue Demons have not beaten a Top 10 team since a 64-57 triumph over then-No. 5 ranked Kansas on Dec. 2, 2006, at Allstate Arena.
Villanova: Hosts Marquette on Wednesday night.
DePaul: Hosts Seton Hall on Tuesday night.