VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) — Corey Stokes scored 23 points, Corey Fisher had 19 and No. 8 Villanova won its seventh straight game, 81-65 over Rutgers on Sunday.
Stokes rebounded from a two-point first half to score eight points in the opening 2:11 of the second for the Wildcats (12-1, 1-0 Big East).
Stokes, Villanova’s leading scorer at 16.4 points, hit two 3s during an 11-0 run that wiped out a four-point halftime deficit and gave the Wildcats a lead they would never give up.
Led by Jonathan Mitchell’s 17 points, Rutgers (9-4, 0-1) never faded until the waning minutes. The Scarlet Knights lost their second straight game following a six-game winning streak.
Stokes made just two free throws in the first half before finding his stroke. His four 3s were one more than Rutgers managed.
James Beatty scored 14 points for the Scarlet Knights. Gilvydas Biruta, who finished with 12 points, was ejected in the final minute for a flagrant foul.
For the second straight time, a team coached by Mike Rice proved a major annoyance for Jay Wright’s Wildcats. He was in charge at Robert Morris last season when the Colonials led 55-47 with 4:19 left before losing to the Wildcats in overtime in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
This time, it was a strong shooting start and active defense that gave the Scarlet Knights a 37-33 halftime lead.
The Wildcats were just too talented to be upset each time.
Villanova, coming off an emotional victory over city-rival Temple, shook off a sluggish first half to run wild over Rutgers.
Stokes opened the half with his first field goal of the game, then Fisher and Stokes hit consecutive 3s for a 41-37 lead. That capped the 11-0 run in just 2:11 that swung all the momentum to Villanova.
Beatty hit his first 3 of the game with 2:48 left to pull the Scarlet Knights to 68-61.
Antonio Pena, who earlier made a sweet bounce pass out of traffic to Stokes for a 3, went inside for a 70-61 lead.
Pena and Mouphtaou Yarou are forming one of the top frontcourts in Wright’s 10 seasons. Yarou grabbed a tough offensive rebound and went straight up for the basket and free throw for a 56-50 lead. Stokes followed with a 3.
The Wildcats won their 44th straight game at their on-campus home, the Pavilion.
They outrebounded Rutgers 40-21 — 17-7 on the offensive boards.
The Scarlet Knights hit seven of their first 10 shots, then survived a 7-minute stretch without a field goal, to take the surprising halftime lead.
Rutgers pounced on the surprisingly sloppy Wildcats. Villanova made nine turnovers that led to 12 points for Rutgers, just a tick off its average of 11.7 per game.
Throw in Stokes’ slow start and it’s little surprise the Scarlet Knights had a solid first half.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)