It wasn't pretty, but Villanova Wildcats survived a Creighton Bluejays team that was more than up for the challenge on Tuesday night. A sloppy affair finally ended with the Wildcats on top 76-72. Ryan Arcidiacono led all scorers with 23 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists while Dylan Ennis chipped in with 19 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists.
The first half was one to forget for the Wildcats. At the half they trailed 30-29 and it could have been worse. Villanova shot just 29% from the floor (21% 3FG) and for the first time in a while, had more turnovers (6) than assists (4) heading in to halftime. The only reason Villanova was in the game was Ryan Arcidiacono and Dylan Ennis, who finished the half with 10 and 9 points respectively.
The first half was marred by quick, selfish shots and bad turnovers - something that hasn't plagued Villanova in quite some time after a red-hot February performance.
The only positive takeaway was that Creighton was unable to take advantage of Villanova's slow start, missing plenty of shots of their own. The Bluejays shot just 31% from the field (33% 3FG) and missed several opportunities at the charity strip (63%).
Jay Wright clearly gave the team a stern talking to at halftime, as many of the poor shot and sloppy play were nowhere to be found once the whistle blew on the second period. Ennis was right at the heart of the resurgence as he turned a steal in to a breakaway slam before hitting two three-pointers in quick succession to give the 'Cats a six-point lead at the first media timeout.
The Bluejays quickly began to unravel, with coach Greg McDermott picking up a technical foul for barking at the officials over a perceived non-call on a Devin Brooks finish through Daniel Ochefu. Brooks and James Milliken helped keep the Bluejays within striking distance by spurring a 7-0 to as the game reached its final ten minutes.
Wright had finally seen enough of what was some questionable officiating for both teams and was given a technical foul for his screams towards the officials. He probably should have been thrown out as he continued his verbal assault well in to the ensuing Villanova huddle.
The Wildcats regrouped well to regain control of the tie by forcing a few Bluejay turnovers and converting them in to points. Josh Hart and Phil Booth were at the center of the spree, scoring thirteen of Villanova's fifteen points during one stretch, but Devin Brooks took it upon himself to score six straight to keep Creighton within five points heading to the penultimate media timeout.
Things slowed down a bit from there as both teams ramped up the defense as the game reached its conclusion. Ricky Kreklow hit a big three pointer to bring Creighton within three points at the final media timeout, but Arcidiacono pulled off a patented pump-fake to draw a foul on Will Artino and canned one of his two free throws to make it a two-possession game once more.
Austin Chatman responded with a deep three to make it a one-point game with just over two minutes remaining, and then Ennis forced his way in to traffic and a jump ball went to Creighton with 1:44 on the clock. Chatman struck again late in the shot clock by attacking the rim and drawing a foul on Hart, and his two free throws gave Creighton their first lead since early in the second half.
Coming out of a timeout, Arcidiacono made a great decision as he faked the handoff and blew past Chatman for and and-1 to the basket. The ensuing free throw gave Villanova a two-point lead with just over 30 seconds to go. After some quick misses by Creighton and free throws by Villanova, the Bluejays gave Villanova one last scare.
A three-pointer was followed by a very questionable call on Arcidiacono for a dead-ball offensive foul on Devin Brooks. Creighton wasn't able to take advantage as Daniel Ochefu played great defense on Will Artino to force a miss, and Ryan Arcidiacono closed it out at the foul line.
The Wildcats return home to the Wells Fargo Center for the season finale on Saturday at 2pm ET vs. St. John's.