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Bell was one of six Wildcats to reach double figures against DePaul. (Kelly Ryan/The Villanovan)

by Frank Scicchitano

On Saturday, the men’s basketball team returned to action as it hosted the DePaul Blue Demons in a classic Big East matchup. Villanova entered the contest undefeated in conference play and remained that way with an impressive 88-62 victory in the Pavilion.

The win propelled the sixth-ranked Wildcats to 5-0 conference record and 16-1 overall as they sit atop the Big East standings. For the Blue Demons, the loss put an end to a two-game win streak in conference play and dropped them to eighth in the standings with a record of 2-4 and 10-9 overall.

The game got off to a slow start with both teams looking sluggish on the offensive end. Defensively, Villanova remained aggressive with its press and on-ball pressure, keeping the game close and giving its shooters an opportunity to find some rhythm.

Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright used an early timeout and some early minutes from energetic freshman Josh Hart to help his team recover its focus and add some spark to the offense.

“I just had to remind them immediately, just work on this, just change this,” Wright said. “Let’s get back to it.”

Coach Wright’s words certainly helped.

At the 6:36 mark in the first half, the game was tied at 16 when James Bell knocked down a pair of free throws to give ’Nova the lead.

Sophomore forward Daniel Ochefu, who had been searching for offensive rhythm all season, added a big dunk a minute later that woke up the home crowd and gave Villanova a 20-16 lead.

Ryan Arcidiacono, who never seems to be lacking rhythm, hit a jumper from the foul line with six seconds remaining in the half to stretch ’Nova’s lead to 33-24 heading into the break. The sophomore guard scored nine of his fourteen total points in the first half.

The momentum continued into the second half for the Wildcats as they slowly built their lead and looked for an opportunity to pull away. Senior guard James Bell hit back-to-back layups to put his team up by 15 with 13:25 remaining.

DePaul continued to battle throughout the remainder of the game. Senior guard Brandon Young hit a 3-pointer following a steal by junior guard Charles McKinney that cut slightly cut into the deficit and forced Coach Wright to call a timeout and regroup.

With 7:30 remaining, Bell knocked down a three that sparked an 11-0 Villanova run and made the score 75-52. The Wildcats didn’t look back from there and cruised to an 88-62 victory.

Ochefu turned in a career-best 14 points as he was a perfect 6-for-6 from the field and also knocked down 2-of-3 from the charity stripe. The 6-foot 10-inch forward also added six rebounds and protected the rim nicely with three blocks.

Ochefu is improving weekly on the offensive end and continues to be a force defensively, ranking third in the Big East in shot blocking.

Coach Wright noted praised Ochefu’s performance after the game and noted his improvement. “Sometimes it takes big guys more time to develop,” he explained. “He keeps getting better and better.”

Ochefu was one of five Wildcats who scored double figures, joined by Bell who led all scorers with 17 points. Despite a slow start, Bell ended the day shooting 6-of-9 from the field and 3-of-5 from 3-point land. He also led all players with eight rebounds, including four on offense.

Forward JayVaughn Pinkston was held to just eight points, while guard Darrun Hilliard finished with 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting. Neither player was able to convert a field goal in the first half, but this pair of experienced juniors bounced back and was a pivotal part of the Wildcats’ 55-point offensive explosion in the second half.

The Blue Demons matched Villanova’s balanced scoring attack with their five starters all posting double figures. Young led the way with 13 points, followed by McKinney with eleven and the three others with ten each.

Although DePaul got good production from its starting five, they could not match up with Villanova’s deep bench, which outscored DePaul’s 24-8. Freshman Josh Hart lead the charge off the bench with 13 points, his eighth straight game in double figures.

Villanova’s efficient shooting performance in the second half led them to finish 31-of-56 (.554) from the field. DePaul was 22-54 (.407) and simply could not keep up with the ’Cats once they hit their stride on offense.

Aside from an impressive shooting performance, Coach Wright’s squad also played its trademarked brand of unselfish and mistake-free basketball. As a team, the Wildcats recorded 21 assists and limited themselves to just five turnovers both of which matched season-bests.

Following two losses by third-ranked Wisconsin last week, Villanova claims a spot in the top five of the national rankings for the first time since the 2009-10 season.

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