Villanova’s senior class won their final home game of their careers with a 79-63 victory over Creighton on Saturday afternoon. A combination of free throws, rebounding, and inside scoring were the keys for the Wildcats, as they clinched their fourth consecutive Big East title and the #1 seed in the Big East Tournament. Eric Paschall had a breakout game for the Cats as he scored a team high 19 points, the most of his Villanova career, adding 6 rebounds and 2 assists.
With Darryl Reynolds sitting out the game with a rib injury, Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins stepped up on senior day with 16 and 15 points respectively. Hart had 8 rebounds while Jenkins had 3 assists and 3 steals. Mikal Bridges also scored in double digits with 11 points, 8 rebounds, and a team high 4 steals. Brunson and DiVincenzo each added 9 points a piece to round out a day where the Wildcats shot over 69% from inside the arc.
Outside of three-point shooting, Villanova controlled this game in almost every aspect, specifically in the second half. Nova made 17-22 free throws compared to the 4-6 that the Bluejays put up. The Cats also were +7 on the boards and +5 in turnovers, including 10 steals.
The win keeps Villanova’s streak of not losing back-to-back games since 2013 alive, and the Wildcats will look to close out the regular season a week from today at Georgetown. While the Cats have nothing else to gain before the BET, another win would go a long way to securing a #1 Seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Pavilion was packed as fans cheered on the final appearance of seniors Darryl Reynolds, Kris Jenkins, and Josh Hart. After dropping their first game at the Pavilion since 2013 on Wednesday, the Wildcats had the opportunity to clinch their fourth consecutive outright Big East title with a victory over the visiting Creighton Bluejays. Nova also hadn’t lost back to back games since 2013, so the team and crowd were fired up for the final home game of the season.
While he was honored on the court with the rest of the senior class, Villanova would again be without senior forward Darryl Reynolds, who missed his 4th straight with a rib injury. He would be replaced in the starting lineup again by Eric Paschall, who joined Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Kris Jenkins, and Josh Hart.
For Creighton, they were looking to bounce back from a last second loss to Providence early in the week. Probably more concerning was the suspension of team captain and star player Maurice Watson Jr., after he was charged with federal felony sexual assault earlier this week. It would take a lot for his teammates to overcome that news while facing one of the nation’s best teams on the road.
Villanova won the opening tip, but after a missed three by Jenkins and an offensive rebound by Bridges, Brunson was called for a travel. On the other end, Villanova’s defense was able to stifle Justin Patton down low, something that would be key for a Wildcat win. After the teams traded missed shots, Mikal Bridges drained a contested three from the wing to open up the scoring. After another strong defensive stop, Brunson drove the baseline and find Paschall wide open underneath for the dunk. The Cats led early on 5-0.
Both teams would have trouble shooting from deep early on. Kris Jenkins missed his firs three attempts. Creighton couldn’t find much room to operate inside, and were forced to take contested shots from the outside. But after another dunk by Paschall put Villanova up 7, Creighton started finding room on the perimeter and hit 3’s on four straight possessions to take a three point lead (Jenknis was able to score during Creighton’s run with a 3-footer in the post). The Bluejays led 12-9 with 13:27 remaining in the half.
After the commercial break, Donte DiVincenzo and Dylan Painter both came in off the bench for Paschall and Brunson. Hart was able to hit a 15 footer off a Painter screen, but Creighton responded by quickly going right at Painter in the post for two. Brunson came back into the game, but couldn’t get an open shot and Painter was called for a foul on the rebound. Without Hart and Jenkins on the floor, the offense didn’t look quite as pretty as it had, but the zone defense was able to start holding Creighton.
Like Jenkins, Paschall was also coming up short on his 3’s. Brunson was able to hit a contested jumper on the baseline, but other than that both offenses had gone stagnant. It was eventually DiVincenzo who connected from deep to give Villanova the lead 16-14. In an odd play on their next possession, Brunson was called for an offensive foul away from the ball, and that sent the game to a TV timeout with just under 10 minutes left in the first.
Villanova came out of the timeout with a press that forced some confusion and a bad shot for Creighton. The result was a drive right down the lane by DiVincenzo for a quick two. Patton was able to answer in the lane for Creighton and cut the lead to two. Kris Jenkins still wasn’t connecting from deep, but he made up for it on defense by tearing the ball away from Patton in the paint for a clean steal. The teams continued to trade turnovers and missed shots until Bridges was able to drive from the wing for a lay-up to push the Wildcat lead back to four.
On defense, DiVincenzo was able to dive for a loose ball and get fouled to get Nova the ball back, but he wasn’t able to connect from three. On defense, a strong stand by Painter against Patton gave Jenkins the times to come in and force a steal that Josh Hart took the length of the court for a bucket and a foul. Hart missed the free throw though, making him now 0-5 in the last two games.
The Villanova defense continued to hold Creighton at 16, and on offense Jenkins was able to get to the line where he hit both free throws to push Nova’s lead to 8. Then Paschall drove the lane from the top of the key for two, and just like that the Wildcats had a double digit lead with 5:30 to play in the half, Nova up 26-16.
Out of the media timeout, Creighton was finally able to break the 15-2 run with a score inside. Josh Hart answered with a drive for an easy layup, as Creighton seemed to be unable to stop Nova’s dribble penetration. Even when they were able to stay in front of their man, Donte DiVincenzo hit a step back deep two to push the lead back to 10. Creighton’s Foster answered with a deep 3, and then Bridges traveled in the paint to hand the ball back to the visitors. The Bluejays were refusing to go away, but couldn’t quite close the gap as they still trailed 23-30 with 3 minutes left in the first.
Creighton continued to cut into the lead with a quick two, but Eric Paschall answered with an And1 layup for an old fashioned three points. The Bluejays answered with another layup in the paint, and then Marcus Foster hit a wide open three in the corner to cut the lead back to one possession. Briges was able to come up with a steal, but lost the ball in transition. This created an opportunity to run for the Bluejays, and they again found Foster in the corner for a three to tie the game at 33 with under 30 seconds to play. Nova would have a chance for the final shot, but DiVincenzo missed a deep three, and then after Bridges grabbed the rebound and kicked out to Jenkins, Kris had the ball poked away as he was going for a head fake and drive. The buzzer sounded with the teams tied 33-33 at the half.
Creighton came out of the half by finding Patton down low for a short jumper. Nova answered with a layup by Bridges after an offensive rebound. The teams traded jumpers as the score remained tied at 37-37 before Brunson drove the lane for a layup. But this was going to be an old school Big East brawl as Creighton hit a three in the corner to take the lead back at 40-39.
Jenkins was able to answer with a turnaround jump shot to give Nova a one point lead. Creighton then answered with a put-back tip at the basket as the trade went back and forth. Nova again answered with an emphatic slam off his own offensive rebound for Eric Paschall, now with a team high 11 points. Creighton’s Foster would draw a foul on his shot attempt, and go 1-2 from the line to tie the game at 43-43.
The teams would trade fouls and turnovers with the game still tied until Creighton’s Thomas was able to hit a pull up 15-footer for a two point lead. How would Nova answer? An Eric Paschall dunk of course. After another Villanova stop, Bridges was able to draw a foul on his drive and hit both free throws to give the ‘Cats a two point lead. Then after the ball got batted around on defense, Nova broke out in transition with Brunson getting fouled on his shot attempt. He’d go 1-2, as it remained a one possession game with just under 13 minutes to play.
On defense, it was again DiVincenzo winning the 50-50 balls, but Jenkins couldn’t take advantage with a hook shot in the lane. Instead, Creighton found an open man in Villanova’s zone defense for a floater to cut the lead to 1. But playing on senior day, Jenkins made a clutch three from the corner to push the Villanova lead up to 4, and finally give the team a little breathing room. Jenkins then dove to the ground for a 50-50 ball and was awarded the jump ball as the game went to a media time out with the score 51-47 and 10:58 remaining.
Out of the break, got to the line for two free throws to further extend the Nova lead. After another Creighton miss it was Brunson’s turn to get to the line, going 2-2 and pushing the Wildcat lead to 8 with just under 10 minutes to play. Villanova remained aggressive on defense, but this time down the court that led to a foul sending Foster to the line where he would make both shots. Brunson again answered with a shot fake and a trip to the foul line where he connected on both shots. The lead was again 8, now with 9 minutes left in the half.
Creighton had the ball stripped by DiVincenzo, who missed his layup in transition but Josh Hart was there for the put back. Foster, who continued to keep the Bluejays in this one, drained a three off a shot fake to answer. Then after Jenkins hit a 15-foot jumper, Foster made a miraculous move down low for a layup. But Jenkins was starting to feel it, and he made his own spin move down low for a score to give Nova a 9 point lead. Nova’s defense stood tall again, pressuring Creighton into an off-balance shot. Then it was Paschall’s turn to continue his break-out game with a put back tip on a missed Hart 3 to give Nova a 65-54 lead, their largest of the game, with 6:17 left to play.
Creighton missed multiple shots in a single possession out of the break before eventually going 1-2 from the line. But Paschall again answered in the paint by backing down his man for the easy layup. DiVincenzo then forced another steal on defense, but wasn’t able to hit a three on the other end. Foster on the other hand, nailed his three attempt in transition, cutting the Villanova lead back down to single digits at 67-58 with 3:49 remaining in the game.
Out of the final media break Creighton was able to get another score to cut the lead to 7, but Josh Hart answered with a pull up jumper to stretch the lead back to 9. The teams traded missed shots before Bridges drew a foul off a rebound and went to the line with the Bonus. He made 2-2 to push the lead back to double digits and really put the pressure on Creighton. The Bluejays missed their next shot and then fouled Paschall on the rebound, sending him to the line with Villanova now in the double bonus. He’d hit both shots to put Nova comfortably ahead. Creighton answered with a quick three and a timeout, but they were still down 73-63 with just 1:27 left to play.
Out of the timeout, Josh Hart got loose on a deep inbound and was fouled to go to the line. He went 1-2, but Bridges was able to steal the ball on the next play and find Hart for a slam to put Nova up 13. After another Creighton miss, they were forced to foul Hart and send him to the line. Hart again missed both free throws, making him 1 for his last 8. But it wouldn’t matter. Creighton backed off and Hart hit a deep three with time expiring to put an exclamation on the Wildcats fourth consecutive Big East Title with a final score of 79-63.