PHILADELPHIA — Eric Paschall scored 27 points, Phil Booth had 19 and No. 23 Villanova held off one more upset in an 85-78 win over La Salle on Saturday.
Villanova (6-2) remained the class of the city and won its 23rd straight Big 5 game, round-robin play among five Philadelphia Division I basketball teams. The Wildcats haven’t lost a city series game since Dec. 5, 2012 against Temple.
They got a pretty good scare against winless La Salle (0-8).
The Wildcats were reeling after consecutive home losses to Michigan, in a national title game rematch, and in overtime to Furman that knocked them out of the AP Top 25 poll. Villanova steadied itself with three straight wins in a Florida tournament, and defeated then-No. 14 Florida State in the title game to return to the rankings.
But a return to Philly only unsettled the Wildcats early.
La Salle was the home team at the Palestra, which serves as much a museum to Philly’s glorious basketball past as it is a court for city series games to be played on. The Explorers played the first half like a 7-0 team instead of a winless one and buried nine 3-pointers. The sensational sequence came at the midway point: David Beatty drew a foul on a layup and La Salle kept possession. Isiah Deas capitalized with a 3. Beatty had a steal and Jack Clark hit a 3 for a 32-20 lead that set the stage for a monster upset.
The rest of the half turned into a 3-point shootout worthy of NBA All-Star weekend, and the Wildcats closed to 42-39 at the half. The Wildcats could never really shake the Explorers until the waning moments and each team hit 12 3-pointers.
Carter’s 3 pulled the Explorers to 69-66 and they got it within one with 5:24 left. Miles Brookins would lob a lazy pass into the middle that was picked off by Saddiq Bey and converted into a three-point play by Booth. Paschall sucked the air out of La Salle fans with a dunk and a 78-72 lead.
Villanova coach Jay Wright kept former assistant coach Ashley Howard winless in his first season on the bench at La Salle. Howard, who worked five seasons under Wright, was hired at La Salle just a week after the Wildcats won their second national championship in three seasons.
The Explorers are forced to wonder how much better their upset odds would have improved had leading scorer Pookie Powell not sat out with an injury (lower body). Carter scored 17 and Deas had 15.
Villanova: Wright made it 2-0 this season against the branches of his coaching tree. He also beat former assistant and current Quinnipiac coach Baker Dunleavy in November.
La Salle: Also played without guard Cheddi Mosely (concussion) and forward Jared Kimbrough (foot). The Explorers made 11 of their first 15 shots in the second half.