NEW YORK - Villanova got the stops down the stretch that Jay Wright loves to see, but the Wildcats coach had to be thrilled with the Wildcats' offensive efficiency when it got down to crunch time Tuesday night against Illinois.
After the Fighting Illini tied the game at 50-all with 8½ minutes to play, the seventh-ranked Wildcats scored on 10 consecutive possessions to blow the game open and roll to a 73-59 victory in the opening game of the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.
Dylan Ennis, who led the Wildcats (9-0) with 18 points, and Daniel Ochefu led the late surge, which Ennis launched with back-to-back three-point baskets. The pair scored 16 of 'Nova's final 23 points. Ochefu finished with 12 points, matching Darrun Hilliard's total.
The Fighting Illini (7-2) hit just three baskets after Aaron Cosby drilled the game-tying three-point basket with 8 minutes, 26 seconds to play for the 50-50 tie.
Villanova led 33-27 at halftime and 46-38 on a dunk by Ochefu's dunk with 12 minutes, 51 seconds remaining before the Fighting Ililni went on a 12-4 run over the next 4½ minutes to tie the game.
Ennis broke the tie with a three-pointer and hit another one 23 seconds later. Illinois stayed in the game and trailed by just 58-55 before the Wildcats scored eight straight points, including a basket and two free throws by Ennis. After a basket by Javonte Rice for Illinois, Hilliard drained a three from the right corner to give Villanova a 69-57 lead with 3:09 to play.
Ochefu followed with a hook and Josh Hart sank a layup to extend the margin to 16.
Malcolm Hill led Illinois with 20 points.
The Wildcats led by as many as 11 points in the first half and held a 33-27 halftime lead, thanks in large part to their offensive rebounding. Villanova pulled down nine offensive rebounds - compared with eight defensive boards for the Illini - and outscored its opponent 11-0 on second-chance points.
However, from a seven-point deficit in the early minutes of the second half, Illinois ran off seven straight points to tie the game at 38 on Ahmad Starks' three-point basket with 16:23 to play.
The lead changed hands four times in the opening five minutes. Villanova led 12-11 before going on a 9-0 run to take a 21-11 lead on a driving layup by Ennis with 11:31 remaining. After Nnanna Egwu drained a three-pointer for Illinois, the Wildcats scored four on JayVaughn Pinkston's two free throws and another drive by Ennis for their largest lead, 25-14.
But Villanova went empty on its next eight possessions covering more than five minutes and the Fighting Illini scored the next eight points, four by Hill, to close to within three points.
The Wildcats went on a 6-1 run late in the first half to build their margin back to eight, and went in at the half leading by six.