Corey Stokes probably shouldn't have played basketball Wednesday night for Villanova. He spent much of Monday in the campus infirmary, then had to be taken out of practice the next day when "he didn't know what end of the court he was on," coach Jay Wright said.
But Stokes came out as if nothing was wrong and made Penn sick with his shooting. The 6-foot-5 senior knocked down jumpers as if they were layups, accounting for a career-high 34 points in the Wildcats' 65-53 win over the Quakers before 5,561 at the Palestra.
It was a rather strange night for the 12th-ranked Cats (7-1 overall, 2-0 City Series). Senior guard Corey Fisher was held out of the starting lineup for arguing with Wright during Sunday's practice.
"You just don't do that, especially when you're a senior leader," Wright said. "It's that simple."
Fisher sat out just 2 minutes, 15 seconds and wound up playing 37 minutes because sophomore point guard Maalik Wayns remained on the sideline after taking a charge from Penn's Zach Rosen and hitting the back of his head on the court with 1:22 remaining in the first half.
Wright said Wayns did not appear to have a concussion but that he kept him out of the game as a precaution.
So that left the stage to Stokes, who became the first Villanova player to account for more than half his team's points in a game since a freshman named Scottie Reynolds poured in 40 on Connecticut in a 78-74 Wildcats win on Feb. 28, 2007.
Against an assortment of defenses by the Quakers (4-4, 0-1) that included a 1-3-1 zone, Stokes knocked down 11 of 15 shots from the field and 5 of 9 from three-point range. He missed just one shot in the second half as he obliterated his previous career best of 22 points and reached the 1,000-point plateau for his career.
"Sore throat, dizziness, I think I had a 24-hour virus or something like that," Stokes said of his condition earlier in the week. "I wasn't feeling well at all. But as one of the senior leaders, my teammates needed me so I had to fight through it."
Wright credited Stokes for playing "with a lot of heart."
"We had not been shooting the ball well from three," he said. "He'd been shooting decently but he hasn't had one of these games yet this year. He does so many other things for us. He's our best defensive player. He's our best rebounding guard. I was wondering after a few games if we're asking him to do too much so it's affecting his shooting."
Penn coach Jerome Allen said he felt his team played poor defense on Stokes.
"I mean no disrespect to the young man," Allen said. "But I think if we held on to our defensive principles and stayed focused, he wouldn't have had a night like he had. Of the number of shots he made, only two, or three max, were contested."
Antonio Pena added 16 points and eight rebounds for the Wildcats. He and Stokes shot a combined 18 of 25 for the Wildcats. The other seven players accounted for 15 points and connected on just 4 of 20 attempts from the floor.
Fisher was 1 of 6 with five turnovers but contributed six rebounds, six assists, and five steals.
"Me and Coach got into it at practice," Fisher said. "We're both competitors, but me being a leader, it's something I can't do. That wasn't the way I was supposed to handle it as a leader. It's over with, and it's on to the next game."
Along with Reynolds, Fisher also was benched at the start of 'Nova's NCAA first-round game last season for not knowing the game plan well enough for Wright's liking. He sat out almost five minutes.
The Quakers, who were led by Rosen - a teammate of Stokes' at St. Benedict's High School in North Jersey - with 20 points, took a brief lead in the first half, trailed by seven at the break, and were still in the game at 49-42 with 6:08 to play. But the Wildcats had too much Stokes down the stretch.
"He had 34 . . . without that, we don't win the game," Wright said.