It wasn’t the normal stars that carried the load in Sunday’s classic Big 5 contest. Instead, it was the relative unknowns — the role players — who stepped up and shined on the biggest stage in Philadelphia college hoops.
When La Salle needed a big play, the Explorers didn’t look to star big man Aaric Murray or fifth-year senior Ruben Guillandeaux. They relied on Jerrell Williams, Steve Weingarten and Sam Mills.
When Villanova needed a big play, the ’Cats didn’t look to seniors Corey Fisher or Antonio Pena. It was Dominic Cheek and Maalik Wayns, who combined for nine straight Nova points down the stretch to lead the Wildcats to an 84-81 victory at Tom Gola Arena.
Cheek drained back-to-back 3-pointers to give Nova a 78-76 lead. After Mills answered with a 3-pointer of his own, the ’Cats took the lead for the final time when Wayns converted a three-point play.
“It means a lot,” Wayns said about the win. “I just wanted to get the win for my three seniors.”
Murray had just four points and five rebounds in 12 minutes for the Explorers after sitting most of the game with foul trouble.
Wayns led Villanova (8-1) with 19 points. Williams scored a game-high 20 points for La Salle (6-4).
“It’s really unique,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said about the Big 5. “When you come off the bench in these games, you kind of feel like there’s something magical going on.”