Villanova opens Big East with victory

Corey Stokes points to the bench after scoring against Rutgers in the second half. (H. Rumph Jr./AP)

The final will tell you that Villanova opened its Big East season with an 81-65 victory over Rutgers today at the Pavilion, where it’s now won 44 in a row.

But the reality was, for a while it was anything but a gimme.

The eighth-ranked Wildcats (12-1), coming off a four-point win over No. 25 Temple in this building on Thursday, trailed by four at the break. And midway through the second half, it was still only a 3-point game. Then, the Wildcats scored nine straight, to finally take control. And the closest the Scarlet Knights (9-4) would get after that was seven, with 2 minutes, 45 seconds showing.

Villanova will play its first conference road game Thursday, at South Florida (6-9, 0-2).

Rutgers, which was picked to finish 15th in the Big East, has a first-year coach in Mike Rice, the former Saint Joseph’s assistant. He was the coach at Robert Morris last season when it lost to Villanova in overtime in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Wildcats scored the first 11 points after intermission. Corey Stokes, who had two points at the half, had two 3-pointers in that stretch. He would finish with a game-high 23, going 4-for-7 from the arc and 9-for-10 at the foul line. He’s now missed three free throws this season.

Corey Fisher, who scored only 5 against Temple, had 19, to go with six assists.

Malik Wayns shot just 2-for-9, but had 9 assists and 8 rebounds.

Four of Rutgers’ starters reached double figures, led by Jonathan Mitchell’s 17. The Knights, coming off a 23-point loss to North Carolina, were outboarded, 40-21.

Rutgers, which was able to get the ball to the basket in the first 20 minutes, shot 8-for-21 the rest of the way.