ROSEMONT, Ill. - Just as DePaul, a team that has not won a Big East game all season, appeared ready to pull the biggest surprise in conference play, Scottie Reynolds displayed some magic to keep 10th-ranked Villanova on a roll.
Reynolds converted two seemingly impossible shots in the lane at crunch time and knocked down four free throws in the final minute, leading the Wildcats to a 74-72 victory over the gritty Blue Demons last night at Allstate Arena.
The Cats (23-5 overall, 11-4 Big East) won for the ninth time in their last 10 games and are now one game out of third place in the conference. The top four finishers receive byes through the first two rounds of the Big East tournament.
But the Wildcats, who have lost this season only to teams that have been ranked at some point, looked ready to fall. They had rallied from a 10-point deficit to go up by 12 with 6 minutes, 20 seconds to play but saw their lead cut to 62-60 after DePaul's Will Walker hit his fourth consecutive three-pointer with 2:47 remaining.
Enter Reynolds, who had scored a modest 10 points up to that time.
First, with the shot clock running down, he used a screen by Dante Cunningham, drove the lane and put up a lefthanded layup as he fell to the court with 2:05 left. After the Blue Demons (8-20, 0-15) answered with a basket, Reynolds drove into the lane and hit an eight-foot jumper while fading away.
"Both plays kind of broke down at the end of the shot clock," said Reynolds, who matched Cunningham's 18 points for team-high honors. "That's what you have to do at the end of the game with the shot clock running down. My teammates have confidence that with the ball in my hands, I'm going to make good decisions."
As for the two shots, Reynolds said, "The lefty layup, I don't use that much, but I'm getting better. The other one, I spun back to the middle. That's my patented" shot.
"Scottie made two incredible plays or we're not even talking about this" win, coach Jay Wright said. "It wasn't like we got stops. He just made a couple of incredible plays."
Reynolds' second basket with 1:08 to play gave 'Nova a 66-62 lead. Reynolds, Shane Clark and Cunningham went a combined 8 of 8 from the foul line in the final minute, but DePaul never stopped playing, hitting a trey at the buzzer.
The Wildcats shot 61.5 percent from the field in the second half.
Before Reynolds saved the day, the Wildcats appeared to be caught in some kind of strange planetary alignment. In three previous home games against top-10 Big East teams, DePaul had lost by an average of 20 points to Connecticut, Marquette and Pittsburgh.
When they led by 33-25 last night at the half, the Blue Demons held the advantage at intermission for only the second time in the Big East all season. Just when it looked as if the Wildcats were back in control after outscoring DePaul by 35-13 over a span of nearly 13 minutes, the Blue Demons fought back.
Asked if the Wildcats came in with the proper focus, Cunningham replied: "I think we definitely did. Shots weren't falling. As a team, we can't sit here and just dwell on the fact we're not hitting shots. We have to come out at the other end and get defensive stops. That's what Villanova is all about."
For Cunningham and fellow seniors Dwayne Anderson, Clark and Frank Tchuisi, it was their 95th victory as a class, tying the school record set by the Class of 1997, which featured Jason Lawson, Alvin Williams and Chuck Kornegay.
Wright frequently expressed admiration at his postgame news conference over the way DePaul played.
"I'm so impressed with that team, [which] hasn't won a Big East game, to play that together," he said. "That says everything about those kids and [coach] Jerry Wainwright. . . .
"We didn't play that bad, they just played really well, and we didn't play our best game."