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Villanova uses big second-half run to rout Connecticut, 81-58

The Wildcats received a significant contribution from freshman point guard Jahvon Quinerly, who played a key role in a 19-0 spurt that enabled Villanova to take control of the game.

Coach Jay Wright of Villanova  yells instructions to his team during their game against St. Joseph’s 1at Finneran Pavilion on Dec. 8, 2018.    CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Coach Jay Wright of Villanova yells instructions to his team during their game against St. Joseph’s 1at Finneran Pavilion on Dec. 8, 2018. CHARLES FOX / Staff PhotographerRead more

NEW YORK – A highly touted freshman point guard from the other side of the Hudson River, Jahvon Quinerly couldn’t have found a more fitting venue Saturday to have his coming-out party as a Villanova basketball player.

The former five-star recruit had the most productive game of his short collegiate career, and did it at Madison Square Garden. He posted career highs of 10 points and four assists and spent the Wildcats’ entire 19-0 run on the court in what became an 81-58 rout of Connecticut before a festive crowd of 16,027.

The Wildcats (9-4) received the usual contributions from their senior duo. Eric Paschall scored 21 points to go with six rebounds and five assists, and Phil Booth contributed 18 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists to help the team snap a brief two-game losing streak.

The unexpected contribution, however, came from the 6-foot Quinerly. The native of nearby Hackensack, N.J., created headlines throughout the college basketball nation earlier this month when he made a post on Instagram after the Penn game that read, “Was my second choice for a reason,” a reflection of his disappointment with a lack of playing time.

Quinerly got his opportunity against the Huskies (8-4) in place of starting point guard Collin Gillespie, who suffered a head injury Thursday in practice and was in concussion protocol, and he delivered over his 25 minutes (also a career best) on the floor.

“I’m so happy for him and I’m so proud of him,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. “This is what college sports is all about. He’s a young man who came in and struggled a little bit with our system early, got down a little bit but not, in no way, ever negative. He made a little mistake on social media … and he learned from it. Then he responded and he showed that he’s been working at what we do, even though he hasn’t been playing. It’s so rare."

Quinerly said he has received support throughout from his parents, who were in the audience Saturday, and his coaches.

“They’ve been keeping me positive, keeping me prepared, and having me stay ready for an opportunity like this,” he said. “Really, I’m just learning how to be a Villanova basketball player, keep getting better every day, step by step.”

After scoring six points in 10 minutes in the first half, Quinerly re-entered the game in the second half with 17 minutes, 7 seconds to play, after Wright was called for a technical foul and Jalen Adams sank both free throws to give the Huskies a 36-35 lead.

The Wildcats went on to score the next 19 points, getting nine from Joe Cremo and five each from Paschall and Booth. Quinerly contributed three assists and a steal during the run and played disciplined defense against UConn’s guard-heavy lineup.

“We were really concerned about those guys getting into the paint and kicking out for threes, so we couldn’t guard them one-on-one,” Wright said. “We had to guard them as a team. Jahvon did a great job on the ball.”

Cremo ended the run with a three from the left corner and gave ‘Nova a 54-36 advantage with 10:39 to play. The Cats would lead by as many as 27 after that, and finished the second half shooting 62.5 percent from the field.

Christian Vital led UConn with 18 points. Adams, the team’s top scorer with a 17.3-point average, was limited to eight on 3 of 13 shooting.

Before Quinerly left the podium after the game, he was asked by Wright to talk about how Gillespie suffered his injury.

“It was an out-of-bounds play,” he said somewhat sheepishly. “I went to attack Eric and I put my arm up. As I went to get past Eric, my arm came down on Collin’s head. That’s how it happened.”