Villanova students, alumni and fans alike can recall the beat downs suffered at the hands of Creighton last season. Two of the team's five losses in the 2013-2014 season came at the hands of the Big East newcomers from Nebraska. Coming into tonight, especially after a rough loss to the Georgetown Hoyas, Nova Nation wanted to taste victory.
"It was tough on all of us," Wright said about having to wait 5 days to follow up the loss. "We didn't see each other much. We gave them off Tuesday, and really spent Friday and Saturday working on Creighton and what we didn't do well at Georgetown. It was good to play a game."
The Villanova Wildcats gave the Creighton Bluejays a bit of their own medicine to start the game as they hit their first three 3-pointers of the game. Ryan Arcidiacono hit the first jumper, followed by back-to-back threes from Darrun Hilliard. These efforts helped the Wildcats jump out to a 15-0 lead and eventually go on to win 71-50.
Coach Wright summed up the evening as a "really good defensive effort for us. We came out and just got stops."
The Bluejays did not put any points on the board until 7:18 had gone by in the first half, when Tyler Clement hit a jumper from the top of the key. Rick Kreklow and James Milliken also converted on their respective buckets and cut the Nova lead down to 9.
Darrun Hilliard put an end to the mini-Creighton run with a layup. His leadership is something that came through many times throughout the game.
Jay said it's "always important" for a senior to get going again. "As long he's aggressive all the time. Tonight, Darrun was aggressive. He's gotta be that way all the time." Hilliard finished with 24 points on 9-15 shooting (6-10) allong with 5 rebounds.
The Wildcats would go cold for the next ten minutes as they would let Creighton crawl back to a 19-11 deficit. Then the Bluejays lost their rhythm as `Nova and CU only hit two field goals a piece until just minutes left in the first half. Creighton's issues came in ball handling; the team had 6 turnovers on the first 8 possessions and 12 in the first half alone. Villanova's struggles were blamed on inefficient three point shooting. On multiple possessions the `Cats were forced to take ill-conceived 3's, even one by Ochefu, to avoid a shot clock violation.
Hilliard got the team going again as he would hit a three pointer with 2:04 remaining in the first half, screaming in excitement after his basket as his team would then carry a 29-14 lead into halftime.
A big reason for Villanova's success was forcing turnovers and turning them into points. `Nova had 15 of their first half points off of Bluejays' turnovers, who ended with 19 turnovers by the end of the game.
"You're not going to beat a team like Villanova when you commit that many turnovers," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said of the sloppy play.
Villanova held the upper hand in most offensive categories at the half. The `Cats shot better from the field and from long-range, and did not allow CU to attempt a free throw. Besides being outrebounded 17-11, Villanova looked a lot sharper than the blue birds.
The second half started off hot for Creighton. Geoffrey Groselle had back-to-back field goals which forced Jay to call a timeout. Out of the timeout, Daniel Ochefu matched Groselle's consecutive baskets, followed by a Darrun 3-pointer. Wright praised Ochefu's versatility on the court.
"He's just a force in every aspect of the game. He's got room for improvement in every little area, but he impacts the game in the low post, offensively on the perimeter he can pass it. Defensively he blocked a three point shot. Tonight he contested Austin Chatman's shot. He had three steals. When you have a basketball player that size, he has such an impact on the game. It's really valuable to us."
Ochefu lead the team with 3 steals, and the `Cats had 10 on the day.
Midway through the second half, both teams went 3+ minutes without a field goal, and that was enough to put away the Bluejays for good. To end the night, the Wildcats sent in Patrick Farrell, Henry Lowe, Kevin Rafferty and Darryl Reynolds.
JayVaughn Pinkston had a relatively quiet game once again. He had 7 points on 2-5 shooting, and only had 3 rebounds. Dylan Ennis was even more absent; he contributed just 3 points on 1-4 (1-2) shooting.
While some Villanovans may not have gotten going offensively, they found other ways to help the team. The Wildcats showed nice balance in assists. They outnumbered Creighton in that category 15-9, however six different Wildcats had at least 2 assists. When ball movement comes from all areas of the court, the opponent has a tough time containing it.
The Wildcats now take the road as they face the DePaul Blue Demons on Saturday, January 31st at 2:00pm. The game will air on Fox Sports 1.