WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. - One might wonder what exactly Villanova was doing last night at the sparkling, 1-year-old, $57 million Multipurpose Activity Center on the campus of Monmouth University. No, Jay Wright did not want to attend the races at nearby Monmouth Park. The meet ended last month.
Villanova alums populated several of the skyboxes at the MAC. And there is no shortage of Villanova fans on the North Jersey shore. There was no official count, but probably half the sellout crowd of 3,896 were 'Nova fans.
And a road win, by any name, is a road win.
The Wildcats also were here to play some basketball, some beautiful basketball. It was over way before it was over, but if you like to watch the basketball move from player to player and never get stuck in anybody's hands, this was a game to see.
Monmouth led, 2-0. Hope they got a picture of the scoreboard. By the time it was done, it read Villanova 76, Monmouth 36.
Numerologists may note that after each team had taken 15 shots, one had made nine, the other three. That about summed up the difference between one of the best teams in the Big East and a school that had gone 43-91 since losing that first-round NCAA game to Villanova at the Wells Fargo Center in 2006, was 0-37 all time against the Big East, was without a double-figure scorer and was picked 10th in the Northeast Conference this season.
"That was our best defensive game of the year,'' Wright said. "The style of offense they play, obviously, we saw film and we knew they run good offense and we kind of got fired up trying to defend it.''
Villanova (10-1) was really sharp in the first half, scoring 44 points on just 33 possessions and leading, 44-17. It would have been 30 at the break had Dominic Cheek not stepped on the sideline just before he nailed a three in the final second.
The 'Cats shot 17-for-29 (58.6 percent) over 20 minutes and committed only four turnovers. The Coreys, Fisher and Stokes, who played their high school hoops in North Jersey, combined for 24 at the break and 39 for the game. Fisher (20 points) missed only one shot in each half and has rediscovered the jumper that had gone missing.
Factor Maalik Wayns into the equation and the Villanova wings outscored the Hawks, 50-36. The 'Cats ended up shooting 50 percent. The Hawks (4-8) shot 25.5 percent and 1-for-19 from the arc.
"Come on, you're Division I,'' one Monmouth fan suggested in the first half as the rout was in full fury. "Make a basket.''
All D-I teams are not created equal.
"Whenever you play games like this, where you got a team that's ranked eighth in the country, plays in the Big East, for us to have a chance we've got to play about as well as we can and hope that they're off their game a little bit,'' Monmouth coach Dave Calloway said.
Villanova was not off. And would not let Monmouth get on. Neither coach called a timeout. Nor were any necessary.
"It snowballed quick,'' Calloway said.
Wright really liked how his team played. And he liked where it played.
"I think if we would have played this game at home, it probably would have been dead," Wright said. "It's pretty nice coming into a packed house. Our place would have been sold out, but I don't know if they would been there."
The Coreys were there - until it was time to call off the troops. Which isn't easy these days for Villanova as it has only nine scholarship players.
"We're real competitive,'' Fisher said. "This is college basketball. You can't take anybody for granted.''
He didn't. They didn't. It was about how Villanova was playing. And the Wildcats played really well.
So well that the margin was the school's biggest in a road game since Jan. 4, 1971, when the eventual Final Four team won at North Dakota, 103-63. Those 'Cats hung out and beat North Dakota State on that trip, completing a rare exacta.
All that is left in 2010 is a Dec. 30 home date with Temple and a chance to win another Big 5 title against the team that took it away last season. Then, it is on to the league. Until then, they will have the memories of Monmouth to get them through Christmas. *