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Villanova vs. Xavier recap: Wildcats grab first Big East championship since 1982 with 77-70 win

Villanova weathered a strong Senior Night effort from Xavier to clinch their first outright Big East regular season championship in 32 years.

Joe Robbins

It was a typical Villanova Wildcats effort on Thursday night at the Cintas Center. Jay Wright's team weathered several Xavier runs, and pulled out a [score] win to ruin the Musketeers' Senior Night. Darrun Hilliard led the Wildcats with 19 points, while Ryan Arcidiacono added 11 points and 7 assists.

Chris Mack's team started out the game by taking advantage of some sloppy offensive play by Villanova to grab a quick 7-0 lead. After a timeout to settle his team down, Jay Wright's squad responded with a 7-0 run of their own to tie the game before a seesaw battle ensued for the better part of the first half.

James Bell was limited as he found foul trouble again, though this time out he appeared the victim of a tough Flagrant 1 call on Isaiah Philmore for elbowing. Despite the early woes, Bell would finish with 12 points and 8 rebounds.

Eventually, Villanova's top-10 offense began to break through, as a 14-21 effort (6-10 3P) effort to close the half staked the 'Cats to a 41-36 lead that they would not relinquish.

As was to be expected, Xavier didn't go away. Semaj Christon continuously pushed the tempo and gave the 'Nova defense fits as he got into the paint at will, either finish at the tin or dishing to teammates for easy buckets to keep it close. Christon would finish with an impressive line of 16 points and 6 assists in what may have been his final home game as a Xavier player.

Fortunately,  Bell returned to his scoring ways in second stanza, notching his 1000th point on this beautiful alley-oop courtesy of Arcidiacono.

Very fitting.

In front of an increasingly raucous crowd, Villanova had maintain their focus down the stretch. Kris Jenkins played a big part by hitting several big three pointers. In one of his best shooting performances, the freshman finished 3-4 from beyond the arc for 9 points.

As Xavier began to press, Villanova's defense responded by forcing the Musketeers into some ill-advised jumpers while the Wildcats began to convert their free throws. JayVaughn Pinkston was notably solid down the stretch for 'Nova, finishing with 15 points and 6 rebounds.

However, it was a Pinkston error on a full-court pass on a press break that led to a late scare for 'Nova. Pinkston fumbled an easy layup which allowed Dee Davis to hit a 3 to bring Xavier with 6 with a minute left. Davis would draw a questionable foul on Arcidiacono on the ensuing Wildcats' inbound play that gave Xavier a chance to get it even closer.

The comeback wasn't meant to be, as Philmore missed an 18-foot fadeaway jumper, and the Wildcats hit their free throws down the stretch to grab the victory and the regular season Big East championship.

The Wildcats will return to action this Saturday when they host the Georgetown Hoyas at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia in their final regular game of the year. Tip-off is scheduled for 2pm ET.