The Wells Fargo Center was primed for a contested battle between the two best teams in the Big East and a pair of Top 10 teams to boot. That lasted all of 9 seconds. The Villanova Wildcats would lead for the rest of the game, winning XX-XX over #10 Xavier Wednesday night.
It was a heavy dose of Nova’s trio of captains that gave Villanova its fifth consecutive home win over Xavier since the Musketeers joined the Big East in 2013. Phil Booth led the way with 21 points, including 5 three pointers, along with 4 assists and 4 steals. Jalen Brunson continued his All-American caliber season with 17 points and 5 assists, his 9th consecutive game with 5+ assists. Mikal Bridges added 15 points and a team high 9 rebounds.
Five Wildcats in total finished with double digit scoring. Eric Paschall had 14 points, going a perfect 2-2 from beyond the arc and adding a Sports Center quality Alley-Oop dunk from Phil Booth. Donte DiVincenzo had 11 points for his 7th consecutive game in double digits.
In the first half Phil Booth had the hot hand early, hitting three threes and scoring 11 points and adding 3 assists. Jalen Brunson kept his All-American season going with 12 first half points. Mikal Bridges led the team with 4 rebounds, while Omari Spellman add 2 blocks. Defensively, the Wildcats were losing the battle on the boards at -7, but were +4 in turnovers. They held Xavier to 34% shooting from the floor, and just 22% from beyond the arc.
Villanova got off to a quick start with back-to-back three’s courtesy of Phil Booth and Jalen Brunson, and they kept scoring from everywhere. Eric Paschall continued to show improvement in his jumper, while Omari Spellman showed that he has just as nice a stroke from the paint as he does from outside. Villanova already led by eight at the first TV timeout.
Booth had the hot hand early on, starting the game 4-5 from beyond the arc and reaching double digit scoring within the first seven minutes. In fact, to that point he was outpacing Xavier on his own. The Musketeers tried to counter by switching to a 1-3-1 zone defense, but that just gave Mikal Bridges space inside as he pushed the Villanova lead to double digits. Paschall followed that with an alley-oop from Booth to cement the early domination by the nation’s #1 team.
Xavier was able to slowly get back into this one, going on an 8-0 run to cut into Villanova’s lead. But the visitors were still having trouble scoring from outside as all of their points had come from in the paint or at the free throw line. With just over seven minutes to play, Villanova still led 26-18.
From there, both teams seemed to have settled in defensively. They traded makes and misses Jalen Brunson connected on a transition three to push Nova’s lead to double digits. Mikal Bridges followed that with another three, and the Cats were able to maintain that lead the rest of the half. Villanova went into the locker room leading 40-28.
The Wildcats continued to push their lead in the second half, turning Xavier miscues into transition baskets. Phil Booth took a long rebound all the way down the court for a pull up jumper to give Nova a 19 point lead, their largest of the night. With 15:47 left in the game, the Wildcats were cruising 55-36.
Xavier started pushing its advantage with big bodies inside, bullying their way to points in the paint. But every time they seemed to chip away at Villanova’s lead, the Cats would respond with a basket of their own. With time starting to run out for the Muskateers, Villanova maintained a 17 point lead with just under eight minutes to play.
From there, Nova put the pedal to the floor as they closed out a clearly dejected Xavier team. Villanova went on to win 89-65, improving to 14-1 and 3-1 in the Big East.