PHILADELPHIA (AP) Jalen Brunson scored 26 points and Josh Hart had 21 to help No. 1 Villanova hold off La Salle 89-79 on Tuesday night.
The Wildcats (9-0) failed to dominate in their first game of the season as the top-ranked team in the country. The national champions led La Salle (4-3) by only single digits late in the game and played little like the team that had steamrolled to the top.
Coach Jay Wright had worried that Villanova’s ascension to No. 1 would give the Explorers a little more incentive to go out and knock off the champs.
La Salle almost came through at the famed Palestra.
Johnnie Shuler and Pookie Powell made late 3-pointers that pulled the Explorers to 77-70. La Salle, which has never defeated a No. 1 team, got more late help from long range when Jordan Price popped a 3 that made it a four-point game. Powell scored 27 points.
La Salle just didn’t have enough to get past Villanova and earn its biggest win since it reached the 2013 Sweet 16.
The Wildcats sealed the win on Donte DiVincenzo’s late dunk and avoided the upset.
La Salle: The Explorers lost three times to No. 1 teams in the 1950s, once each in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2010s. La Salle last lost to a No. 1 team 90-65 to Kansas on Dec. 12, 2009.
Villanova: The Wildcats went 5-1 as an AP Top 25 No. 1 last season. They were the top team in the country for three weeks and proved they were worthy of the ranking with the program’s second national championship. The Wildcats are trying to become the first repeat champs since Florida in 2006-07.
La Salle faces another Big East team Saturday against Georgetown.
Villanova gets its toughest test in weeks when it plays No. 23 Notre Dame in East Rutherford, New Jersey.