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Ennis guides No. 7 Villanova past Illinois

Alan Draper profile picture
Sports Editor
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NEW YORK — Villanova’s Dylan Ennis is proving to be a quick learner, and the seventh-ranked Wildcats are the beneficiary.

Ennis, a redshirt junior guard, led a balanced scoring attack with 18 points as Villanova turned away Illinois 73-59 in the first game of the Jimmy V Classic on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.

Ennis was followed by guard Darrun Hilliard and forward Daniel Ochefu, who tossed in 12 points each. Guard Josh Hart came off the bench to contribute 10 points for Villanova (8-0).

“His basketball IQ has improved tremendously,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said of Ennis. “He’s a very intelligent person. He made some great decisions tonight.”

No Wildcats player has scored at least 20 points this season, and eight players are averaging between 12.3 and 5.4 points per game.

Illinois (7-2) got a game-high 20 points from sophomore guard Malcolm Hill. Forward Rayvonte Rice, the Illini’s leading scorer, struggled from the field, shooting 5-for-15 and scoring just 10 points.

Ennis, a transfer from Rice in 2012, sat out the 2012-13 season per NCAA rules, then backed up James Bell, a first-team All-Big East selection last season for Villanova.

“Just having an understanding of our system has helped Dylan,” Wright said. “I probably made an error when he was sitting out, of always having him run the other team’s offense.

“It was fun for him and we wanted that for him, but I don’t think we did a good enough job of teaching him our stuff. Now he’s more comfortable with what we are doing.”

Ennis certainly looked the part Tuesday, especially in the second half. The product of Brampton, Ontario, scored 12 of his points in the final 20 minutes.

Ennis’ jumper with 4:42 to play gave Villanova a 64-55 lead, and his two free throws with 3:52 left increased the margin to 66-55.

“We got great guys,” Ennis said. “It’s never one guy taking over the game. I never thought of taking over the game. I just wanted to do what I do for the team and try and get the win.”

Illinois scored just six points in the final 6:45 of the game.

“I was really proud of our guys,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “We hung in there the first 32 minutes, and after that, not everything went our way and our guys kept swinging. Then with eight minutes to go, we had an opportunity to win the game.

“But in the last eight minutes of the game, I thought (the Wildcats) were smarter and tougher and they executed better. They were more cohesive and they had more grit, and we’re not thrilled about that.”

The Fighting Illini went on a 9-2 run to knot the score at 50 with 8:32 left to play, but Ennis launched two straight 3-pointers, handing a 56-50 Villanova advantage.

Fighting Illini guard Ahmad Starks tied it at 38 with a 3-pointer with 16:24 left in the game, but the Wildcats went on a 10-3 run to take a 48-41 cushion. Forwards Kris Jenkins and Ochefu scored four points apiece in the surge.

The physical first half featured a combined 20 fouls and 15 turnovers. The Wildcats maintained a lead throughout the half and led 33-27 at the break.

The Fighting Illini closed the gap to 12-11 early in the half, but the Wildcats used a 9-0 run to move ahead 21-11. Ennis contributed four points and an assist in the sequence.

Villanova finished with a 37-30 rebounding edge, and the Wildcats shot 53.7 percent to the Illini’s 41 percent.

NOTES: Illinois began the night ranked 15th in the nation in scoring (83.9 points per game), 11th in scoring margin (plus-21.1 points per game) and fifth in free-throw percentage (.775). … The Fighting Illini are wrapping up a run of five out six games on the road. After the Jimmy V Classic, they close out the trip with a visit to Chicago’s United Center to play Oregon. … Illinois and Villanova split their six previous meetings. … Both teams made their second appearance in the Jimmy V Classic. Villanova lost to Texas 67-56 in 2008, and Illinois dropped a 70-51 decision to Providence in 2003. … The Wildcats are 18-17 at Madison Square Garden under coach Jay Wright.

Alan is an experienced writer of online betting and casino guides. He is one of the main editors of Basketballinsiders.

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