Despite the Xavier Musketeers still holding a half-game lead in the standings, the Villanova Wildcats proved they’re still the kings of the Big East. Villanova again blew out their biggest competition for the title 95-79, led by 25 points from Mikal Bridges.
After the game, Bridges credited his teammates for his big day. “I wasn’t trying to set the tone by scoring, I was just trying to defend. My teammates found me, they found me wide open for my shots so I credit them for my points.”
Villanova shook off their shooting slump by hitting 16 threes and shot over 60% from the floor. Six Wildcats finished in double digits in this one, and two players finished with more than 20 points. Donte DiVincenzo was just shy of of a triple double with 21 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists.
The defense was equally impressive, holding Xavier to just 47% from the floor and forcing 11 turnovers. Bridges also spoke to the team’s defensive resolve, calling their effort “a 40 minute Villanova street fight.” Omari Spellman was able to negate a lot of Xavier’s offense in the paint, recording two blocks and forcing a lot of altered shots.
The Wildcats put their shooting woes behind them and came out on fire in the first half. Six Wildcats combined for 11 threes, shooting over 57% from beyond the arc. Surprisingly, Villanova did all of this without attempting a single first half free throw. Bridges alone hit four of them, and led all players at the half with 16 points. But it was the defense that head coach Jay Wright was most impressed with heading into the locker room. Villanova held the Musketeers to 40% shooting, and just 30% from behind the arc.
Xavier made a run in the second half, cutting the lead all the way down to one. But Villanova showed why they’ve been ranked atop the college basketball world most of the season by locking down on defense and finding the best shot on offense. The team returns home on Wednesday to face DePaul as they look to win out and secure a fifth consecutive Big East Regular Season Championship.
It was a sold out crowd at the Cintas Center for the game that would basically decide the fate of Villanova’s Big East Regular Season streak. While it wouldn’t have an effect on this game, the Wildcats did get some good news today when Phil Booth’s cast came off and it was announced he would return as soon as Wednesday. Villanova hasn’t played with its full roster since December 5th when Colin Gillespie broke his hand.
Both teams came out of the gate amped up for the big game. Xavier may have been a little too excited as they committed three fouls in the games first minute. But these teams quickly showed why they’re both in consideration for #1 seeds in the NCAA tournament. Each school showed their ability to shoot from deep, attack the paint, and use the extra pass to find the open man. Just before the 15 minute mark, Villanova had taken the early lead off a Colin Gillespie three to break the tie at 11-8.
Right out of the TV break, both teams were showing the national television audience what Big East Basketball is all about, diving on the floor for loose balls and competing fiercely for every inch of the court. The teams would trade a few misses until Gooden made an impressive behind the back pass to O’Mara to bring Xavier within one. Not to be outdone, Donte DiVincenzo threaded a perfect pass through transition defense to find Omari Spellman for a huge slam. Villanova continued the strong play at the rim with a lob to Bridges to push the Wildcat lead to five with 12 minutes left in the half.
Villanova’s strong defense combined with some sloppy play allowed Nova to establish a small lead, but Xavier wasn’t going to be out hustled at home, and they kept finding ways to keep the Wildcats from going on a run. Both teams kept battling hard in what was quickly becoming a physical contest. Jalen Brunson seemed to finally give Villanova an edge with a deep three, but Bluiett answered with an old fashioned three point play of his own to pull Nova back within six.
But Villanova was starting to heat up from deep up and down the roster. Bridges hit a three to push the lead back to nine, his second of the day. Five Wildcats had connected from deep to that point, shooting a collective 60% from behind the arc. But for as much success as the Wildcats were having from the perimeter, they were starting to fall behind in fouls. Spellman was already on the bench with two, and Dahmir Cosby-Roundtree committed the team’s 7th foul to send Xavier to the line with just under 8 minutes left in the half.
The Musketeers would hit both of their free throws, but Bridges immediately came down the court and nailed his third three of the game. The teams traded buckets in the paint until Mikal Bridge drained another deep three, giving the Wildcats a 36-21 lead with just under six minutes to play and forcing a Xavier timeout.
The timeout worked in Xaviers favor, as they were then able to pick up an offensive foul on Bridges and send him to the bench with two. But the barrage from deep wasn’t coming from just one player, as Eric Paschall and Donte DiVincenzo hit back to back bombs. Villanova now had 10 threes in the first half. Trevon Bluiett was able to answer with a three of his own, but the Wildcats still led by 14 heading into the final TV timeout of the half with just over three minutes to play.
Xavier turned the ball over on back to back possessions, and Eric Paschall and Jalen Brunson were able to stretch Nova’s lead to eighteen before Xavier finally found the basket for two in the paint. Donte DiVincenzo answered with a floater in the lane, but Xavier was able to draw a foul on the other end, activating the double bonus and hitting both free throws. But it was all Villanova offensively as DiVincenzo buried another three to give the Wildcats their biggest lead of the game, 51-32.
Xavier came back down for a quick And-1 bucket, and then was able to play great defense to force a shot clock violation on the other end. Eric Paschall made his second silly foul of the half, sending Trevon Blueitt to the line where he made it a fourteen point game. Paschall wasn’t able to hit an open three from the corner, and Villanova would take a 51-37 lead into the half.
Villanova went right back to work in the second half, getting the scoring going with a transition lay-in for Bridges. But Trevon Blueitt, who had never scored more than 12 points against the Wildcats, matched that total with a four point play that gave Eric Paschall his third foul of the game. Jalen Brunson was able to race down the court for another quick two, but Xavier answered with a three to make it an eleven point game and bring the Cintas Center to its feet.
The two teams were going punch for punch. For every tough basket the Wildcats hit, Xavier would drive back and hit a difficult shot of their own. By the 17 minute mark, Xavier had started creeping back into this one now trailing 59-48.
Out of the timeout, Villanova settled for a pair of contested threes, and Xavier was able to drive the paint to cut the lead back to single digits. But Bridges continues to show the hot hand, this time finishing at the rim for a contested two. But Xavier continued to gain momentum, as they hit two buckets including an And-1 for Blueitt to cut the lead to six with just under 15 minutes to play.
The teams would trade fouls and turnovers, keeping it a two possession game. A bad pass by Omari Spellman resulted in Eric Paschall’s fourth foul, and that was immediately followed by another bucket from the now hot Blueitt to cut the lead to four. But Villanova wisely took a timeout to settle the crowd, and then Bridges was able to post up and get to the foul line. Although he only went 1 for 2, it was able to slow Xavier’s run.
It didn’t slow for long as Xavier made it a one point game. Then things really got heated as Omari Spellman and Xavier’s Jones got right in each other’s faces after a rebound, resulting in double technicals. It wasn’t just the players who were getting chippy, as the coaches were brought together to discuss the technical and each were clearly upset with the refs and each other.
When play finally resumed, it was Villanova’s Jalen Brunson who was able to post up down low and hit a fade away to give Villanova a five point lead. After getting the ball back, Villanova missed it’s seventh straight three of the second half. Xavier came right back down and was able to grab a few offensive boards before drawing a foul and getting to the line with 11:18 left in the game.
Xavier hit both free throws, now 14-14 in the game, but Jalen Brunson was able to hit a second fade away that seemed to hang on the rim before finally falling. After a Xavier turnover, Spellman got open in the corner and buried a three to push the lead back to eight. After a few empty possessions, Bridges was able to hit a mid-range jumper, but then got called for his third foul on the other end.
Villanova’s freshman continued to find small windows to contribute, including an easy lay in for Cosby-Roundtree to beat the shot clock and give Villanova a ten point lead. But again, Xavier would rally behind their home crowd and score back to back buckets to cut the lead back to six. Dahmir Cosby-Roundtree answered again with a thunderous dunk assisted by a driving Mikal Bridges. But on the other end Trevon Blueitt continued to draw fouls on Bridges, hitting the basket and sending Nova’s leading scorer to the bench with four fouls. With just over 7 minutes left in the half, Xavier was down by just six with their leading scorer heading to the line for one.
Blueitt uncharacteristically missed the free throw, but Colin Gillespie couldn’t hit the three. Then Paschall, with four fouls, chased down the ball handler in transition, got the turnover, and the ball eventually ended up back with Gillespie who nailed the three on his second attempt. Xavier was able to drive and score on their next possession, but Gillespie again answered by splitting the defense and hitting a finger roll at the rim. After another missed Xavier three, DiVincenzo hit a long two off a screen to push the Wildcat lead back to double digits with over 4 minutes remaining.
Trevon Blueitt hit two more free throws to bring Nova’s lead back to nine. DiVincenzo hit another three for the Wildcats, but Blueitt answered with a transition three of his own. Villanova still had a three possession lead just under the four minute mark, 85-76.
But out of the timeout, it was a ten point lead as DiVincenzo’s long two was corrected to be a three. DiVincenzo continued his one man run, finding a hole in the defense and charging the paint for a quick two. Xavier couldn’t answer, and Spellman hit a three from the corner to put the Wildcats up 15 and essentially put the nail in a Villanova victory with just under 2 minutes to play.
Xavier was clearly defeated at this point, and the remainder of the game was a formality. The teams traded a few buckets, but Villanova walked away with a BIG win 95-79.