Villanova had a couple of reasons to be a little nervous Wednesday night. Not only were the 10th-ranked Wildcats playing their first true road game of the season, but it also was their initial Big Five contest of the season against a La Salle team that defeated them two years ago in their last visit to Tom Gola Arena.
But the Wildcats didn't appear to be fazed in the slightest. They shot 58 percent from the field in the first half en route to an 18-point lead and defeated the Explorers, 84-70, in the City Series opener for each team.
Villanova (7-0) was led by Darrun Hilliard and Dylan Ennis with 15 points each. Ennis also added nine assists. Jerrell Wright, who played only three first-half minutes because of foul trouble, led the Explorers (4-3) with 19, and Khalid Lewis added 17.
"It's a good win for us," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "Any time you win a Big Five game on the road, it's a good win for us."
Jordan Price, La Salle's leading scorer with a 17.7-point average, made just 2 of 8 shots from the floor and scored 10 points.
Villanova held a 47-29 halftime lead and never allowed the Explorers to get any closer than 11 for much of the second half. The Wildcats extended their lead to 21, 77-56, on two free throws by Josh Hart with 5 minutes, 7 seconds to play, but the Explorers weren't ready to go home just yet.
Wright and Lewis combined to score 12 of La Salle's next 14 points, and the Explorers trimmed the deficit to 10, 80-70, with 2:10 remaining. But Ennis set up the Wildcats for a dunk by Daniel Ochefu and a layup by JayVaughn Pinkston to get the Wildcats out of danger.
The Wildcats shot 58 percent from the field, connected on 4 of 6 three-point tries, and turned the ball over only twice to take a 47-29 lead at the break. They also scored 17 points off eight La Salle turnovers. Hilliard led Villanova with 12 points, and Pinkston and Ennis added eight apiece.
'Nova did a good job in the opening 20 minutes of limiting Price, who didn't make his first field goal of the game until the final minute of the first half and entered halftime with four points on 1-of-5 shooting.
La Salle was within one point at 14-13 just eight minutes into the opening half before the Wildcats held their opponent without a field goal for a 3:43 stretch during a 10-1 run. Hart scored six points in that span, including a layup that gave 'Nova a 24-14 lead with 8:25 to play.
The Explorers scored the next two baskets to make it a six-point game, but Villanova outscored them by 16-5 over the next five minutes and led, 40-23, with 2:23 to play. The Wildcats hit their first three three-pointers in the game during this run - by Jenkins, Ennis, and Hilliard.
Hilliard later added another three-ball and a driving layup to put Villanova up by 18 at the half.