NEW YORK — Eric Paschall scored 21 points, Phil Booth had 18 and the national champion Villanova Wildcats avoided their first three-game losing streak in nearly six years with an 81-58 win over Connecticut on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
The Wildcats (9-4) had been reeling with consecutive losses at college basketball’s most renowned venues; against Penn at Philly’s Palestra and to No. 1 Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. The Huskies seemed primed to make it three straight holding a 36-35 lead at the Garden, where the Wildcats celebrated the last two Big East Tournament titles.
Unlike their recent defeats when they wilted down the stretch, Villanova flashed the horsepower of old and unleashed a 19-0 run that sent fans into a frenzy. Joe Cremo hit three 3s during the spurt that made it hard to believe this was the same program that already matched the season loss total from each of the last two seasons.
Cremo stepped into the starting lineup when Collin Gillespie was forced out with a head injury. Cremo, a graduate transfer from Albany, made the most of his new role.
So did Jahvon Quinerly.
Quinerly, a top-rated high school recruit who originally committed to Arizona, has had a baffling freshman season. He struggled to get off the bench and missed a game with an injury. Quinerly played only seconds against Penn and was benched against Kansas days after writing an Instagram post criticizing his own program. He turned social media outbursts into highlight-reel bursts against the Huskies (9-4).
Quinerly shot an airball and threw a pass straight into UConn’s hands in the first half that might have earned him a spot on the bench had Gillespie not been out. He hit a 3 in the first half and scored six points. He had the game’s spotlight “drive of the game” with a midcourt steal during the 19-0 run that he fed to Booth for an easy basket.
He seemed at ease with the pressure off — when a corner 3 rattled around the rim before it trickled out, Quinerly smiled at the oh-so close attempt. He had 10 points in a season-high 24 minutes.
The Wildcats hadn’t lost three straight since January 2013 against Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Providence in the last season of the old Big East. The Wildcats have won two national titles since then and a loss here or there had seemed more like a minor inconvenience. But after losing four stars from last year’s title team to the NBA, Villanova has struggled, though three losses have come to Top 25 teams.
Christian Vital hit four 3s and scored 18 points for UConn. The Huskies had won two straight under first-year coach Dan Hurley.
Villanova: Is Quinerly a permanent rotation player or was this a one-game wonder? More games like this one, and Quinerly may be the ball-handling guard who can create from the perimeter the Wildcats need.
UConn: Hope a 10-day holiday break can get them ready for American Athletic Conference play.
The former Big East rivals wrap up their three-year series with a game next season in Philly.