Wild­cats stave off West­ern Michi­gan

Vil­lanova used a 13-4 run down the stretch for a 76-65 win over West­ern Michi­gan (1-2) on Thurs­day to start the Charleston Clas­sic.

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Pete Ia­co­bella

West­ern Michi­gan coach Steve Hawkins watched his team slice a dou­ble-digit lead to three points against de­fend­ing na­tional cham­pion Vil­lanova. Then the thir­dranked Wild­cats showed once more they’re built to han­dle tough games.

“They did what they do,” Hawkins said.

Vil­lanova used a 13-4 run down the stretch for a 7665 win over the Bron­cos (12) on Thurs­day to start the Charleston Clas­sic. West­ern Michi­gan had cut a 14-point sec­ond-half lead to 59-56 to draw within strik­ing dis­tances of the Wild­cats.

That’s when Eric Paschall, Kris Jenk­ins and Josh Hart all hit 3-point­ers to keep Vil­lanova un­de­feated and off to its fourth straight 3-0 start.

Paschall fin­ished with 17 points, and Jalen Brun­son and Hart had 14 each. Jenk­ins, who’s shot at the end gave the Wild­cats their na­tional ti­tle last April, had 11.

“It was a good, tough game,” Wild­cats coach Jay Wright said. “It wasn’t pretty, though and we’ve still got to get a lot bet­ter.”

Vil­lanova im­proved to 12-0 in early sea­son tour­na­ments over the years. The Wild­cats are chas­ing their third con­sec­u­tive crown af­ter win­ning the Le­gends Clas­sic in 2014 and NIT sea­son tipoff last year.

Jalen Brun­son said the Wild­cats, who toughed out a 79-76 win at No. 15 Pur­due on Mon­day night, didn’t panic at West­ern Michi­gan’s charge. “We’ve got vet­er­ans and it’s a sit­u­a­tion we’ve seen be­fore,” he said.

The Wild­cats will face Wake For­est or UTEP on Fri­day for a spot in Sunday’s cham­pi­onship.

The Bron­cos (1-2) fell to 0-4 at the eight-team Charleston tour­na­ment. They lost all three games when they last vis­ited in the 2008-09 sea­son. Thomas Wilder led West­ern Michi­gan with 19 points.

Big Pic­ture

West­ern Michi­gan lost its sec­ond straight af­ter fall­ing to Oak­land on Mon­day. The Bron­cos forced too many long shots, fin­ish­ing 3 of 15 from be­hind the arc. They were much more ef­fec­tive driv­ing deep into Vil­lanova’s de­fense. Wilder’s five bas­kets came from around the rim.

Vil­lanova came off a 79-76 win at No. 15 Pur­due, and its slug­gish per­for­mance made this much closer than it should have been. Jenk­ins picked up two early fouls and played only 21 min­utes in his re­turn to South Carolina, hav­ing spent part of his child­hood in Columbia.

Coach Wright said his team must pick up its de­fen­sive pres­sure if it hopes to suc­ceed this year. The Wild­cats lost two big de­fend­ers in for­ward Daniel Ochefu and guard Ryan Ar­cidi­a­cono. Wright said Ar­cidi­a­cono called out de­fen­sive changes, a job that’s fallen to Brun­son this sea­son. “We have the abil­ity,” Brun­son said. “We just have to get bet­ter.”

Stand­ing Strong

Eric Paschall, Vil­lanova’s 6-foot-7 sopho­more, has been charged with guard­ing taller play­ers this sea­son be­cause of the Wild­cats’ lack of size in their ro­ta­tion. Of the eight play­ers with 15 or more min­utes, only 6-9 se­nior Darryl Reynolds was taller than Paschall. The sopho­more says it is a dif­fi­cult chal­lenge that he’s be­com­ing more ac­cus­tomed to each time out. “I’ve just got to keep my mind clear and con­cen­trate on what I have to do,” he said.

MIC SMITH — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Josh Hart talks with Jay Wright in the sec­ond half of Vil­lanova’s game against West­ern Michi­gan in the Charleston Clas­sic in Charleston, S.C. on Thurs­day.

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