PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Omari Spellman had 26 points, 11 rebounds and helped No. 1 Villanova kick off a rousing day in Philadelphia sports with a 92-76 win over Seton Hall on Sunday.
The Wildcats (22-1, 9-1 Big East) won their ninth straight game in front of a crowd dotted with green jerseys and chanting for the Eagles just hours before the Super Bowl.
Villanova's win served as the sports appetizer for a city absolutely whipped into a frenzy, with fans lined up hours before kickoff around the block to get into sports bars to watch the Eagles play the New England Patriots.
Mikal Bridges, who scored 17 points, hit a 3 with 2:22 left for a 21-point lead that seemed to serve as the cue for fans to turn their full attention toward the Super Bowl. They put on dog masks (an Eagles rallying symbol) and chanted "We Want Brady!"
For about 25 minutes, the Pirates (17-6, 6-4) gave the Wildcats a serious scare.
Eric Paschall slammed into the court with such a thump it could be heard in the nose bleeds and subbed out for a quick breather on the bench. Paschall's timeout was brief. He hit a 3 that tied the game at 48-all.
Jalen Brunson, a top candidate for national player of the year, followed with another 3 that snapped a tie game and seemed to signal the part of the game where Nova usually goes on a decisive run.
It was that time.
Paschall dunked on the next possession and Bridges came flying out of nowhere down the baseline to put back a missed shot that sent the roaring crowd to their feet in appreciation.
Khadeen Carrington, who averages 14.2 points, was whistled for his fourth foul just 6½ minutes into the half and Bridges blocked a shot that sent the ball soaring over Seton Hall's bench.
Myles Powell steadied the Pirates with a pair of 3s that kept pulled them to 62-60. Spellman hit a 3 and Bridges nailed a three-point play to help the Wildcats start to pull away. Powell hit one more 3 that gave Seton Hall a feint glimmer of hope but that's about all teams get these days against Nova.
Seton Hall was one underdog Philly had no interest in rooting for an upset.
The "Good Luck, Philadelphia Eagles!" sign flashed on the big screen as fans belted out "Fly, Eagles, Fly!" and the Wells Fargo Center soon turned into the site of a Super Bowl pep rally.
The Pirates played the first half like the team that spent most of the season in the AP Top 25 and reached as high as No. 13. Seton Hall shot 49 percent from the floor and Angel Delgado hurt Villanova inside with 10 points and six rebounds. Delgado finished with 18 points and Desi Rodriguez had 20.
Seton Hall and Butler have been the only thorns in Villanova's Big East side since the conference was reconfigured in 2013. Each team had defeated Villanova three times — or, six of the program's 12 losses over that span.
Spellman hit three 3s in the first half and scored 15 points to give the Wildcats a 41-37 lead at the break.
- Seton Hall fell to 3-2 this season against Top 25 teams.
- Villanova coach Jay Wright, an Eagles season-ticket holder, had said this week he planned to watch the Super Bowl in downtown and enjoy the experience with the rest of the city. The Wildcats were the last area team to win a major championship when they won the 2016 national title.
- Powell shoulder bumped Donte DiVincenzo then shoved him in the chest late in the second half. Both players were whistled for technical fouls.
- Seton Hall hosts Marquette on Wednesday.
- Coming off a startling win over No. 4 Duke, St. John's plays Wednesday at Villanova.
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