Villanueva Ignites Blair Win

LIVINGSTON, N.J. -- Charlie Villanueva isn't your typical bench warmer.
Villanueva, the offensively skilled 6-10 junior forward from Blair Academy, came off the bench to score 22 points in leading the Buccaneers to an 82-65 victory over the Lawrenceville School on Wednesday at the New Jersey Prep semifinals.
Blair Head Coach Joe Mantegna quipped that he is bringing Villanueva off the bench due in part to superstition but also productivity.
"Charlie likes coming off the bench, and he seems to give us a big spark when he gets into the game," Mantegna said.
Villanueva did more than spark. He torched Lawrenceville for 16 first half points as Blair built a 43-28 half-time lead. Everyone got into the act in the second half, as four Bucs hit double figures and the lead was stretched past 20 points on several occasions.
Luol Deng collected 17 points, while Jason Haas (14 points) and Ben Kenyon (12 points) also made key contributions for Blair.
"When Haas and Kenyon are in double figures, we are that much tougher to guard," Mantegna said.
Senior swingman Adam Payton pumped in 21 points and senior guard John Bedford chipped in 17 for Lawrenceville, which copped the 2001 state prep championship. Ironically, both Payton and Bedford were key members of that squad.
On Wednesday, Lawrenceville simply could not overcome an early deficit that steadily grew as the game progressed.
After falling behind by more than 20, Lawrenceville managed to slice the lead to 71-58 on a steal and score by freshman guard Craig Moore with 2:55 to play.
Lawrenceville then resorted to fouling Blair, and the Bucs proceeded to hit seven of eight free throws over the 1:10 to push the lead back to 20 and put the game out of reach.
"This year, we are doing a better job of finishing games," Mantegna said. "You have to learn how to do that, and the key has been getting defensive stops."
Blair advanced to Saturday's Prep final against St. Benedict's. The Gray Bees lost to Lawrenceville in last year's final.