"There's a lot of pressure on him," Wright said. "I'm asking him to be our leader on the floor, our leader off the floor. I'm asking him to be a senior even though he's a junior. I'm really putting a lot of pressure on him, and I want to do that. It's tough on him. He isn't what we want him to be yet, but he's handling it really well."
Wayns, who finished with 22 points, nine rebounds and four assists, sparked a rally at the end of regulation after La Salle (1-1, 0-1) went up, 61-56, when Devon White dunked a follow-up shot with 1 minute, 24 seconds to play in regulation.
Wayns drained a three-ball from beyond the arc, and freshman Darrun Hilliard stole an inbounds pass from Earl Pettis and went the length of the floor for a layup that tied the game with 59.3 seconds remaining.
With the score tied at 63 in overtime, Wayns nailed a 17-foot jumper and deposited another three-ball to put 'Nova in front, 68-63, with 1:26 to play. Dominic Cheek, who scored 18 points, secured the win with eight free throws in the final minute.
"It was good for my teammates to see me try to lead them and get a good win," Wayns said. "I didn't do it myself. I've got great teammates. Dominic Cheek stepped up. Darrun Hilliard got a big steal. So it wasn't just me. It was a team effort."
Villanova won despite 35 percent shooting (17 percent from deep) and 20 turnovers. The Cats held a 50-35 rebounding edge, getting 14 boards from Mouphtaou Yarou, and outscored the Explorers, 34-9, at the line.
La Salle coach John Giannini called the result "as difficult a loss as I've had since becoming a head coach in 1989."
"We really played hard, we played well, we defended," Giannini said. "We were up against an outstanding opponent on their home court where they rarely lose. We were up five with less than two minutes left. It's incredibly difficult and painful not to win that game."
For much of the way, La Salle guards Tyreek Duren, Sam Mills, and Pettis outplayed their Villanova counterparts. Mills knocked down all four of his three-pointers in the first half to give the Explorers early confidence. Duren played steadily in the second half to keep his team's upset hopes alive.
"I thought their guards played great the entire game," Wright said.
But for Giannini, they didn't do quite enough at crunch time.
"Maalik Wayns made huge plays," he said. "I have some guys that I love that are outstanding players, but I thought that they deferred a little bit late. They're too good to defer."
Duren had 24 points and five assists, Mills scored 19 points, and Pettis had 12 points and nine rebounds.
Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or email@example.com.