Villanova welcomed back Phil Booth to the court Wednesday night after a four-week absence and the redshirt junior guard seamlessly moved back into the lineup as if he had been gone for only four days.
The third-ranked Wildcats raced out to an 18-point first-half lead and were never threatened after that in a 93-62 victory over DePaul on Senior Night at the Wells Fargo Center, enabling them to keep pace with Xavier in the race for first place in the Big East.
Villanova (25-3, 12-3), which shot 59.6 percent from the field in defeating the Blue Demons (10-17, 3-12) for the 16th straight time, remained a half-game behind the Musketeers. Xavier defeated Georgetown to improve to 13-3 in the conference.
Booth, who suffered a broken bone in his right (shooting) hand on Jan. 23 against Providence and missed seven games, played 16 minutes off the bench and scored 14 points. He shot 4 of 6 from the field and made two three-point baskets in four tries.
“It felt good just to be back out there playing, especially with these guys,” said Booth, who played with a wrap on the back of his hand and wore an ice bag on it afterward. “There was just a little rust from not playing games for about a month. But I just wanted to get back out there and help the team in any way I can.”
Villanova coach Jay Wright said he was amazed at how Booth looked after just getting the cast off his hand last Friday and participating in his first full practice since the injury on Tuesday.
“It’s a tribute to him,” Wright said. “Our assistant coaches were working with him and our strength coach and our trainer, too, while he was out. But once he took the cast off, he looked like he never had anything wrong yesterday at practice and he looked pretty good tonight.”
Wright also said there were no minutes restrictions on Booth.
Booth also got hit in his right eye in the second half but returned to the game after getting looked at on the sideline. He termed it “a regular elbow to the eye.”
Mikal Bridges, who shot 9 of 12 from the field and knocked down four three-point baskets, led the Wildcats with 27 points and Eric Paschall added 16. Jalen Brunson contributed 11 points and seven assists.
“He’s one of our leaders,” Bridges said of Booth. “He leads us and also he knows how we play, the right spots on the defensive end, when to make the right pass. He’s been here for four years, and we’re happy to have him back.”
With the game tied at 16 early, Villanova took control over a stretch of just over eight minutes, outscoring the Blue Demons 24-8 as its first-half lead grew to 18 points. The Wildcats scored the first 10 points of the second half to take a 56-30 lead before the period was two minutes old and would grow their margin to as many as 30 points.