The signature move by Villanova that contributed to the continued frustration of the Towson offense came midway through the second half, when Dante Cunningham came in full flight from the Wildcats' offensive end to block Junior Hairston's layup attempt.

"I just happened to get a good jump on it, and I got it," Cunningham said with a smile.

Villanova's second-half defense was the deciding factor last night, with the 20th-ranked Wildcats holding the Tigers without a field goal for the first 8 minutes, 2 seconds of the period and cruising to a 64-47 victory in the Philly Hoop Group Classic at the Palestra.

The Wildcats (5-0) tightened the screws on the young Tigers (3-2) and settled down offensively after a first half in which Towson used its zone press and 1-3-1 half-court defense to force the Wildcats to play faster than they wanted.

Villanova coach Jay Wright said it was a matter of having his players calm down. After all, the Wildcats were playing at the Palestra for the first time in a non-Big Five game since Dec. 17, 1987, when Rollie Massimino was the head coach and Wright was a first-year assistant.

"We were excited in the first half," Wright said. "We weren't really poised. Our defense was kind of over-helping and they were getting some threes, but you've got to give them credit."

"We were a little too passive against their zone," added Scottie Reynolds, who led the Wildcats with 14 points and six assists. "We had open shots and we were passing to people who were covered. In the second half, we made the easy pass and didn't try to do everything by ourselves with the ball."

The Wildcats barely had more field goals (11) than turnovers (10) in the first half but led, 33-28 at the break. The Tigers, who went the final 1:38 of the half without a basket, couldn't hit anything for almost half of the second period.

Cunningham and Antonio Pena, who hit for 12 points apiece, each scored four in the opening 13-2 run of the second half, which gave the Wildcats a 46-30 lead with 13:34 remaining.

Towson recorded its first field goal, a layup by Robert Nwankwo, with 11:58 left. But the Wildcats extended their lead to 21 points at 53-32 on Pena's layup with 10:07 to play.

"It wasn't me saying much," Wright said, referring to halftime. "We had to keep doing what we know we've got to do and execute. We didn't change anything. The seniors stepped up. Dante hit a foul-line jumper right away [in the second half], and Scottie made some extra passes."

Towson wound up shooting only 28 percent in the second half and less than 33 percent for the game.

Last night marked the Wildcats' first game away from the friendly confines of the Pavilion. Tonight, they will play the toughest team on their schedule so far, Rhode Island, which gave Duke all it could handle on the Blue Devils' home court before losing, 82-79, on Nov. 16.

The Rams defeated Penn State, 77-72, in the first game of last night's doubleheader.

"This is a great team," Reynolds said. "They went in and played Duke tough. So we feel like we're going to have a tough one, and we can't have any excuses. We had a late game and have to come back and play again, and that's what we want. We can't wait to get back on the floor."

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.