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About the only thing that would surprise Philadelphia's basketball followers these days would be to see a favorite win. But last Saturday not even the most blas� among the 9,238 who shrugged off a bus and trolley strike and a snowstorm to jam the Palestra would have given a used transfer for Villanova's chances when the Wildcats trailed Penn by 10 points midway in the second half. Then Villanova's Jack Kraft moved his team out of a shifting zone and into a tight man-to-man. Almost immediately Villanova began to catch up. Finally, with three seconds to go, Wally Jones sank two free throws to give the Wildcats a 63-62 victory.
Earlier, St. Joseph's was doing fine just as long as Rhode Island stuck to its running game. The Hawks easily built up a 17-point lead. But when Rhode Island switched to a more deliberate attack, St. Joe's was in trouble. With 1:30 left, Rhody was only four points behind. At this point, clever jimmy Lynam stalled with some of his fancy ball handling, then sank some free throws and St. Joe's pulled it out 79-70.
Like everybody else, Boston College concentrated on stopping Seton Hall's Nick Werkman. Gerry Ward, with help from his converging teammates, held Werkman to 11 points, but the strategy left too much shooting room outside. Randy Chave, Richie Dec and Sonny Sunkett made the most of it as Seton Hall won 61-53.
Canisius beat Scranton 88-78 and Connecticut 74-65, but then barely made it past Massachusetts 54-52 on Bill O'Connor's foul shooting (15 for 18). St. Bonaventure, even with sophomore Mike Rooney back in the lineup, couldn't match Detroit's rebounding and lost to the Titans 78-73. Meanwhile, unbeaten Niagara was still winning. The Eagles overpowered Youngstown 82-65.
"Utterly fantastic," murmured Duke's Vic Bubas. He was talking, as usual, about Art Heyman's passing and shooting but he could easily have been referring to his entire Duke team after it ran over West Virginia 111-71. Heyman and the other Blue Devils were never tougher. They shot a hot 61.6%, beat the jittery Mountaineers at their own running game and stopped the visitors' shooters cold with a neat 1-1-3 zone that swarmed over poor Rod Thorn, who got only 11 points. Heyman scored 28 points and passed off for almost as many more while Jeff Mullins added 27 to the rout. Said West Virginia's George King: "I don't care if I never see them again."
The Southeastern Conference race stays as tough as ever. Georgia Tech got right back into a first-place tie with Mississippi State by beating Auburn 69-64 and Tennessee 73-69. But just when Mississippi State was feeling best, independent Memphis State caught them. The Tigers, defending tenaciously with a tight zone and shooting very well, undid State 71-65. Kentucky fared better, beating Xavier 90-76.