Wildcats top Vandy to snap losing streak

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Andy Edwards (@DLNAndyEdwards)

Entering Saturday’s Big East-SEC Challenge game against Vanderbilt, the Villanova men’s basketball team had never set foot inside Memorial Gymnasium, the Commodores’ unusually designed home that has been a house of horrors for most guests since its construction in 1952. Thanks to their starting frontcourt, the Wildcats left a rare visit to Nashville with fond memories.

Mouphtaou Yarou led all scorers with 16 points, 12 of them coming in the second half, and added seven rebounds as Villanova pulled away from Vanderbilt late and snapped a three-game losing streak with a 62-52 victory in the teams’ first meeting since 1994. JayVaughn Pinkston added 13 points and eight rebounds for the Wildcats (4-3), who helped the Big East finish off a 9-3 mark in the inter-conference competition. Villanova was 19-of-46 (41.3 percent) from the field and made 18-of-25 from the charity stripe to stay in front down the stretch.

Rod Odom led three Commodores (2-4) in double-figures with 14 points, while Kyle Bright posted a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds, but the Wildcats held Vanderbilt to 37-percent shooting (17-of-46) and forced 13 turnovers to earn a much-needed victory.

Kedren Johnson had 12 points, five rebounds, and four assists for Vanderbilt, including a three-pointer that pulled them to within 39-37 with 11 minutes remaining, but the Commodores got no closer than that the rest of the way. James Bell (eight points) answered with a long ball of his own, Yarou canned a pair of free-throws, and Pinkston finished a put-back to give the Wildcats some breathing room and a 46-39 lead at the 9:15 mark. Five quick points pulled Vanderbilt back to within two, but lay-ups by Darrun Hilliard and Yarou on consecutive possessions kept the Commodores at arm’s length as Villanova held them off down the stretch for its first win in the last four games.

Villanova converted on the game’s opening possession as Hilliard drained a three-pointer to give the Wildcats an early lead. The advantage quickly disappeared, however, Hilliard’s misfire on a breakaway dunk attempt the first of six consecutive misses from the field for the Wildcats, who watched the Commodores reel off the next eight points. Deep threes from Johnson and Odom sandwiched a lay-up from Kyle Fuller as Vanderbilt got it going early.

The Commodores took a five-point lead, their biggest of the half, when Shelby Moats snuck inside for a lay-up off a nice feed from Bright to put Vanderbilt up 14-9 seven minutes into the contest. From that point until halftime, the Commodores missed 10 of 13 shots and turned it over six times as the Wildcats made their move.

Tony Chennault and Hilliard knocked down triples and Pinkston and freshman Daniel Ochefu finished inside as part of a 10-2 run that gave the Wildcats a 19-16 edge with seven minutes to play in the opening half. The lead changed hands four times from there until  Yarou and Pinkston made jumpers to stake Villanova to a 28-23 advantage at the two-minute mark, a lead the Wildcats never surrendered.

Bright quickly responded with a three to cut into Villanova’s lead, but freshman point guard Ryan Arcidiacono finally connected on his fifth three-point attempt, an NBA-range effort that restored the five-point bulge and helped the Wildcats head into the break in front 31-26.

Arcidiacono finished with eight points for the Wildcats, half of which came on free throws in the final minute of action. The first-year floor general had four assists to just two turnovers, making up for a poor shooting night (1-of-6 from the field). Hilliard also had eight for Villanova, while Ochefu finished with three points, four rebounds, and a block in 14 effective minutes.

Villanova returns home for a Big Five tilt with Temple on Wednesday at 9 p.m.

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