Villanova advances despite ongoing funk

Villanova came together to overcame a slow start and the benching of starters Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher to begin the game and beat a determined Robert Morris team in overtime. Elsa/Getty Images

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Villanova isn’t completely right.

The Wildcats can point to the benching of starters Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher -- for not handling their business as starters in game preparation Wednesday night (that’s about as detailed as anyone would say) or the reinclusion of Taylor King back to the active roster. Or they can point to the lack of pregame shooting for Reynolds as a reason for his erratic play.

But know this: Villanova coach Jay Wright said the Wildcats haven’t played a full 40 minutes of good basketball since winning at West Virginia Feb. 8.

“That’s a long time ago,’’ Wright said after the No. 2-seeded Wildcats escaped with a 73-70 overtime win over No. 15 Robert Morris in the NCAA tournament South Regional first-round game at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center Thursday.

But can Villanova play like that again? Since that win over the Mountaineers, the Cats had lost four of seven games prior to the win Thursday. Getting 10 blocked shots was a huge key in the win over the Colonials, including four from Maurice Sutton and three from Mouphtaou Yarou.

“We can keep getting better,’’ Wright said. “If we can win this next game and get more practice, we can. I don’t know if we’re ready to win this next game.’’

The reason for that may be the focus of this group. Wright said it’s hard to argue with an outside perspective that the Wildcats look like a team that has gone adrift with multiple disciplinary actions of late for unexplained reasons. Wright said these are issues that are dealt with in-house and the team moves on.

He maintained there aren’t issues in the program, but “I do understand what it looks like. I can’t argue that. If anybody says something, I told our guys you can’t argue with them. It happened.’’

Wright emphasized that there are expectations for starters that weren’t met by Reynolds and Fisher. He said that both would start Saturday in the second round and that the issue was over. Still, something was amiss since Reynolds shot 2 of 15 from the field, 1 of 8 on 3s. His only 3-pointer came with one minute left in overtime. Reynolds did get to the line to make 15 of 16 free throws to still finish with an odd 20. Fisher was a moderate contributor with six points.

Wright said that not getting Reynolds his pregame shots up with assistant Doug West hurt Reynolds’ preparation. He said that the early tip time of 12:25 p.m. disrupted the game plan and that Saturday the Wildcats would find a gym for Reynolds to work out in prior to the game.

The decision to discipline his best player was made Friday night, Wright said, to send a message that the starters have to do their job in prepping for the game.

Reynolds said he heard it loud and clear and wouldn’t let it happen again, whatever “it” is.

“It’s not a big deal, it was coach’s decision,’’ Reynolds said. “I’m the leader and as the leader I’ve got to be that rock. I can’t have no chips on that rock. [Thursday] there was a chip in the rock.’’

Reynolds said he didn’t know the benching was coming. But he wasn’t shocked. Reynolds sat the first four minutes. He played 34.

He said he didn’t blame the benching for his poor shooting. He said he didn’t have his legs.

“As both a leader and a captain and a starter I’ve got to be solid and excellent all the time,’’ Reynolds said. “Robert Morris played a heckuva game. I think they did a great job on us and that had something to do with our shooting.’’

Lost among the Reynolds’ benching talk was an unbelievable effort by Robert Morris freshman Karon Abraham who scored 23 points and made five 3s. But that will be a blip on the record as Reynolds goes forward in the tournament.

“I’m a starter and if coach is punishing me, my choice is either sulk and let everybody know it and give other guys a reason to do the same thing,’’ Reynolds said. “He made an example out of me and I knew what he was doing. It didn’t affect me at all. Everybody learns from it and we’ll be better from it.’’