PHILADELPHIA -- Villanova got an early dose of the bruising Big East schedule they'll begin in just a few weeks.
Dante Cunningham had 19 points and 12 rebounds, and the Wildcats (No. 22 ESPN/USA Today, No. 20 AP) broke open a close game in the second half to beat Rhode Island 78-65 in the championship of the Independence bracket of the Philly Classic on Saturday night.Corey Fisher added 14 points, Scottie Reynolds scored 13 and Reggie Redding had 11 points and a career-high 12 rebounds for the Wildcats (6-0). Antonio Pena also had 10 points.But the big story was the game's physical nature.Redding needed four stitches above his left eye after the game, and he and Cunningham were forced to change jerseys in the second half because of bloodstains."When it gets physical, it gets fun," Redding said.Villanova opens its Big East season on New Year's Day against No. 15 Marquette, so this represented a pretty good test considering the Wildcats' other early season opponents: Albany, Fordham, Niagara, Monmouth and Towson."We were really looking forward to this just to see where we are," Villanova coach Jay Wright said.Jimmy Baron scored 23 points and Keith Cothran added 12 for Rhode Island (5-2), which had its four-game winning streak snapped.The Rams haven't defeated Villanova since Jan. 25, 1947, and lost against a ranked team for the 14th straight time and the second time this season. Rhode Island narrowly lost to No. 8 Duke, 82-79, on Nov. 16. The Rams last beat a ranked team on Dec. 2, 1998, 70-63 over then-No. 21 Utah."We won three of four games in this tournament," Rhode Island coach Jim Baron said. "We were right there if we had just played a little better."Villanova led by as many as 10 in the first half and had a 40-33 edge at the break. A short jumper by Shane Clark gave the Wildcats a 53-40 lead with 14:20 to go and a layup by Cunningham pushed the lead to 61-46 with ten minutes on the clock."It was good for us to be in a battle," Wright said. "We had a battle here."Rhode Island got within 63-54, but the Wildcats scored eight unanswered points to push the lead to 71-54 with 4:33 remaining. After a layup by Redding made it 71-54, a visibly frustrated Baron was whistled for a technical foul.