Villanova steps up its defense, Temple freshman Nate Pierre-Louis emerges | Local college basketball roundup

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Temple Owls freshman Nate Pierre Louis was named this week’s American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Week after scoring a career-high 23 points in Saturday’s 75-72 overtime loss to visiting Memphis.

A look at some story lines around the City Six college basketball scene:

Villanova

The Wildcats are starting to get their defensive legs. Last Wednesday they defeated high-powered Xavier, 89-65, at the Wells Fargo Center. That’s a Xavier team still averaging 84.9 points per game.

“That was our best defensive game,” said point guard Jalen Brunson, who remains a national player of the year candidate. “It all starts with us, the captains taking the goal of being defensive leaders.”

The Wildcats continued the strong defensive showing when the offense wasn’t at its best in Saturday’s 78-71 win over St. John’s at Madison Square Garden. The Red Storm shot just 1 of 12 from three-point range compared to 13 for 30 from the Wildcats.

The No. 1 ranked Wildcats are second in the Big East in scoring defense, allowing 69.6 points per game. It was no surprise that redshirt sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo had a team-high 25 points against St. John’s. In four career games against the Red Storm he is averaging 22.1 points.

Coming up

Wednesday at Georgetown, 6:30 (Fox Sports 1)

Saturday at Connecticut, noon (CBS)

Temple

One bright spot for the struggling Owls has been the emergence of 6-4 freshman Nate Pierre-Louis. He was named this week’s American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Week after scoring a career-high 23 points in Saturday’s 75-72 overtime loss to visiting Memphis.

Pierre-Louis also had five points and seven rebounds as Temple snapped SMU’s 33-game home winning streak with a 66-64 win. He didn’t play a single minute in Temple’s first four games, but is averaging 23 minutes and 11.5 points in the last six games.

“He’s done very well and has brought a different kind of energy for us,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said.  “He works hard at his game and is a gym rat, and it is a pleasure to coach him.”

Pierre-Louis is averaging 7.8 points and is shooting 10 for 23 from three-point range for a team-best 43.5 percent.

Coming up

Wednesday vs. Tulsa, 6 p.m. (ESPNews)

Saturday at Penn, 2 p.m. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

St. Joseph’s

The Hawks continue to play close games, but have struggled recently in such contests. St. Joseph’s has played six straight games decided by seven points or fewer and has gone 2-4 in those games. Four of those games have been decided by four points or fewer, or were decided in overtime. The most recent nail-biter was Sunday’s 72-69 loss at UMass in a game where St. Joseph’s owned a 16-point second half lead. The Hawks shot 4 for 20 from three-point range, including 1 for 11 in the second half.

The Hawks are 11th in the 14-team Atlantic 10 in three-point percentage (31.5 percent). Leading the Hawks in three-point percentage is 6-9 freshman Taylor Funk, who is shooting 49 for 114 (43 percent). The Hawks are last in the A-10 in scoring defense, allowing 76.4 points per game.

Coming up

Wednesday vs. Dayton, 6:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

Saturday vs. Fordham, 1 p.m.

La Salle

Like St. Joseph’s, La Salle has been on the wrong end of several close games. La Salle is riding a four-game losing streak and has suffered consecutive defeats in overtime. The first was an 86-79 loss at UMass. That was followed by a 101-94 triple overtime loss on Saturday at Duquesne. The game had 15 ties and 33 lead changes.

Senior forward B.J. Johnson has missed the last two games and five of the last six due to an ankle injury. La Salle has lost four of the five games that Johnson has been out of the lineup. Johnson still leads the Atlantic 10 in scoring (21.2 points per game). Junior guard Pookie Powell is fourth in scoring (19.1). One positive for the Explorers has come at the free throw line. La Salle leads the A-10 in free throw percentage (76.1 percent).

Coming up

Wednesday vs. Fordham, 7 p.m.

Saturday at Richmond, 2:30 p.m. (NBCSN)

Penn

The Quakers are lining up a special season. Their 12-5 record is best through 17 games since 2002-03, and they are 3-0 in Ivy League play for the first time since 2011-12. The Quakers lead the Ivy League in scoring offense (78.5 points per game) and are third in scoring defense (70.3 points per game). But it is at the defensive end where Quakers have made their biggest strides according to coach Steve Donahue.

“We are such a better defensive team that we were last year,” Donahue said. “I thought last year we masked our deficiencies.”

He feels the Quakers are much better defending the three pointer. The statistics bear this out. Penn leads the Ivy League in three-point percentage defense, holding teams to 29.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

Penn 6-foot-8 sophomore A.J. Brodeur has been named Ivy League Player of the week. He had 30 points in Saturday’s 77-71 win over Columbia and 18 points, nine rebounds and six assists in a 69-61 win over Cornell the previous night. He is averaging 12. 1 points and 6.5 rebounds.

Coming up

Saturday vs. Temple, 2 p.m. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

Drexel

The Dragons have lost three in a row and six of seven. Senior guard Sammy Mojica reached three milestones in Saturday’s 91-85 loss to visiting Hofstra. He tied his career high with 22 points, set a career-high with five steals and became the 37thh player in school history to reach the 1,000-point career mark. Mojica is averaging 11.8 points and is second on the team in minutes played (36.8 per game).

“The last thing on his mind after that game with Hofstra (was 1,000 points),” Drexel coach Zach Spiker said. Spiker added that when he was hired before last season, Mojica considered transferring.

“He almost left and made a decision to be all in here, and as a senior I see a young man focused on doing anything he can to help the team,” Spiker said.

Coming up

Thursday at Towson, 7 p.m.

Saturday at James Madison, 4 p.m.