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In their Big 5 title campaign, the Wildcats averaged a victory margin of 22.5 points—the most in Big 5 history. (Rachel Bleier/The Villanovan)

by Brett Klein

The Wildcats closed out their Big Five schedule with a decisive win over Temple on Saturday, Feb. 1, by a final score of 90-74.

The victory secured a sweep of the Big Five season series for the ’Cats. Their average margin of victory in four wins over Penn, La Salle, St. Joseph’s, and Temple was 22.5 points per game.

Villanova was heavily favored coming into the game against the Owls, and the Wildcats asserted their dominance throughout the game, taking control early in the second half and never surrendering the lead or even allowing the opportunity for a Temple comeback.

The loss dropped the Owls’ record to 6-14 overall, while the ’Cats improved to 19-2 and moved up to No. 6 in the Associated Press college basketball rankings after Kansas, Oklahoma State and Michigan State lost on Saturday.

The Wildcats opened up a 25-13 lead with just under nine minutes to play in the first half. The hot start was propelled by two 3-pointers from senior guard James Bell and another from redshirt sophomore guard Dylan Ennis.

The Owls would not let the game get away from them, however, and quickly rattled off 12 straight points in less than six minutes to tie the game at 25.

Contributing to the Owls’ scoring spurt was junior guard Will Cummings who finished with 24 points in the game to lead his team. Senior guard Dalton Pepper shot just four of 14 and finished with 11 points but played all 40 minutes for the Owls.

The Wildcats were able to recover and take a five-point lead into half time as a result of back to back threes by sophomore guard Ryan Arcidiacono, the second of which found the net with just four seconds left to play. Arcidiacono finished with just those six points and five assists, but was able to give the ’Cats some much-needed momentum going into the half.

Temple simply had no answer for Villanova’s offense in the second half and struggled to contest the Wildcats’ outside shots or prevent them from getting easy looks in the paint. Additionally, the ’Cats defense was able to fluster the Owls, who shot just 36 percent from the field in the game and made nine of their 25 3-point attempts.

If there had been any doubt which team would prevail in the contest after one half, the Wildcats erased it in the blink of an eye. They turned their five-point lead at the intermission into a 12-point advantage in less than two minutes. Three pointers from Bell and junior guard Darrun Hilliard quickly drained the optimism from the Liacouras Center at Temple as the Wildcats took a 43-31 lead.

Bell and Hilliard were two of five Wildcats who scored in double-figures. Bell led the team with 19 points while Hilliard added 12 of his own. Sophomore forward Daniel Ochefu, junior forward JayVaughn Pinkston and Ennis contributed double-digit scoring outputs as well.

Villanova’s 12-point advantage early in the second half ballooned to 24 midway through the half when the Wildcats took a 64-40 lead.

The ’Cats shot six of 13 from long range in the second half and hit 12 of 29 from deep overall. In addition to shooting 41 percent from three, the Wildcats knocked down 52 percent of their field goal attempts.

The Wildcats’ offense was not limited to the perimeter. Pinkston and Ochefu combined to give the ’Cats an efficient inside presence. The two forwards shot a combined 10 of 13 from the field for 24 points. Pinkston and Ochefu also rebounded effectively, each pulling down seven rebounds.

“In the first half, I just thought they pounded us on the offensive glass,” Head Coach Jay Wright said. “We did a much better job in the second half rebounding.”

Neither team won the battle of the boards, with each team pulling down 40 total rebounds. The Wildcats were able to outrebound Temple 20-16 in the second half after losing the battle over the first 20 minutes.

This season, the Wildcats have not depended on any one player to shoulder a majority of the rebounding effort. Instead, each player on the court must be committed to rebound the ball.

Ennis turned out to be an X-factor for the ’Cats, he scored 10 points in 21 minutes. Ennis’ performance came after he logged just nine total minutes in the previous two games combined, in which he shot zero for three and was scoreless in both games.

Temple attempted to mount a late rally but only managed to get as close as 14 with just over one minute left. Villanova’s offense refused to become complacent during the Owls’ final pushes and never let the Owls get within striking distance.

The Wildcats will welcome Seton Hall to The Pavilion on Friday, Feb. 7 at 7 p.m.

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