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Villanova overcomes problems to beat Penn

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PHILADELPHIA — Jay Wright was quick to remind everyone after the game that he knew what Saturday night would be like. The 14-year coach has been around the Big 5 long enough, having grown up in the Philadelphia suburbs.

When it’s a Big 5 matchup, all records get thrown out the window.

That’s why it was no surprise to Wright, or to any of the 8,722 fans at the sold-out Palestra, that there was nothing easy about No. 5 Villanova’s 62-47 win over cross-town rival Penn.

The Wildcats struggled with their shooting from the field and free-throw line, couldn’t put away a team that entered with just four wins until late, and had their second-lowest scoring output of the season.

But, thanks to 21 points and 10 rebounds from junior center Daniel Ochefu, the Wildcats extended their winning streak against Philadelphia’s Big 5 schools to 11 games.

“We just scrapped,” Wright said. “We gutted it out. It was not pretty. There wasn’t really anything positive that we did except for just being mentally strong and keep playing every possession. And we finally kind of broke through at the end, getting the ball to Daniel.”

Villanova (17-1) led just 38-37 after Penn freshman guard Antonio Woods drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing with 9:54 to play. Wright called timeout and his team responded with a 24-10 run to close out the game and secure the win.

“I thought we gave ourselves a chance to win for about 32 minutes and 30 seconds,” Penn coach Jerome Allen said. “But, unfortunately the game is 40 minutes. We knew they weren’t going to beat themselves.”

Junior guard Ryan Arcidiacono started the closing run with a corner 3-pointer out of the timeout. Just under two minutes later, Ochefu flushed home a two-handed dunk to cap a 7-0 run in 1:56.

After shooting 14 3-pointers in the first half, Villanova attempted just four in the second half. Ochefu took over in the paint, scoring the ball with a variety of post moves. He also went 5 of 6 from the free-throw line.

“I don’t think we did a good enough job of helping out our bigs,” Allen said. “He’s 6-foot-11 and we gave him six, seven, eight, nine dribbles and he’s liable to score the ball. He’s improved and worked on his body and overall skill.”

The Wildcats didn’t take a double-digit lead until just under four minutes remaining; Ochefu hit two free throws to make the score 51-41.

“That was good for us,” Wright said. “I would still like it the other way; but, when you’re in it and it’s in the second half and it’s tight on the road, in one sense you’re saying, ‘This is good, we need this.’ That’s what was good about tonight. We were in a tight game on the road and we responded well; we never cracked.”

Penn (4-9) was paced by a career-high 18 points by Woods, who shot 7 of 12 from the floor, including 3 of 5 from beyond the arc.

Junior guard Dylan Ennis added 10 points for Villanova.

Villanova, which made 15 3-pointers and shot 46 percent from the field in a win over Xavier on Wednesday, shot just 30 percent in the first half Saturday and had its lowest scoring output in any first half this season.

The Wildcats found their stroke in the second half, shooting 56 percent.

Penn also had its lowest first-half scoring output and Villanova took a 23-21 lead at halftime.

The Wildcats never trailed in the first half and led by as many as seven, 19-12, before Penn went on a 7-0 run, capped by a corner 3-pointer from Woods, to tie the score. But senior guard Darrun Hilliard answered with a trey to put Villanova back in front for good.

Despite its poor shooting, Villanova was able to take a lead at the break in part because of its defense. The Wildcats were able to force 11 first-half turnovers. The Quakers finished with 17.

Villanova gets back to Big East conference play with a matchup against Big East rival Georgetown Monday night in D.C.

“We just see next game,” Ennis said. “No matter who it is, if it’s conference or nonconference, Big

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