Villanova looked to be clicking at tip, building a 5 point lead early in the game. However, sloppy play fueled a Muskies run about midway through the first half. Paul Scruggs was a menace for the ‘Cats in the first half, going 7-7 from the floor with 15 points. Villanova had no answer for the star guard as he got to the rim at will over and over again. Xavier scored 22 points in the paint in the first half. Scruggs would finish with 28 points.
On offense, Villanova had some difficulty penetrating in the first half, resorting to deep threes and connecting at a dismal 28% clip. It felt like every time ‘Nova got the ball inside, it led to either a turnover or a shot clock violation. Villanova had 8 first half turnovers, four from Paschall alone.
There was just absolutely no fluidity on offense and no urgency on defense from the ‘Cats in the first half. The Wildcats finished the half assisting on just 6 of their 11 buckets.
But there was this.
With just under 4 minutes left in the half, a Scruggs’ three stretched the Xavier lead to 9. However, as the half wound down, Phil Booth cut the lead to six with a vicious dunk off an absolute dime from Joe Cremo.
The Wildcats came out sharp after the half. A Phil Booth three followed by a Saddiq Bey dunk cut the lead to 3 after just two minutes. However, almost as quickly as they were hot, the ‘Cats went cold again, missing four straight shots before a Booth lay-up cut the deficit to four. A Saddiq Bey put-up brought the crowd back as the ‘Cats came within a bucket.
Then things got wild.
A Jermaine Samuels 3, with just over 40 seconds left in the game, took a lucky bounce and brought the ‘Cats within 1.
With the game winding down, a Eric Paschall tip-in tied the game. Xavier, with just over 19 second left, went flying down the Court...and right into Collin Gillespie. The offensive foul gave the ‘Cats the ball with just under 2 seconds left. Saddiq Bey flirted with danger, throwing the inbounds away to half court, but Xavier’s prayer fell short. Overtime.
In the extra session, Eric Paschall nailed a three off a missed Phil Booth foul shot and another Jermaine Samuels triple stretched the lead to six. The ‘Cats were ahead for good, with two Eric Paschall foul shots sealing the game, 71-67.
The way this game was shaping up, it appeared to be a tale as old as time. Phil Booth was the only consistent offense for the ‘Cats until essentially the last 7 or so minutes of the contest. That can’t happen. We know that can’t happen. As I began putting together the recap, I imagined I would conclude by pointing that out...again.
It’s been a struggle all season as ‘Nova fans have looked for a non-senior to establish himself as a consistent threat on offense. While last year’s team gave us a fun and nightly version of “who’s it going to be?,” this year’s team is terrifying grab-bag of uncertainty. It could be someone’s night, but far too often it appears to be nobody’s night.
However, tonight took a pleasant turn. Jermaine Samuels and Saddiq Bey played big minutes, in big spots, and came up big. So yes, Phil Booth cannot carry us, on his own, in March. That article has been written a hundred times. But, if tonight is a trend upward (again) for Jermaine Samuels and Saddiq Bey, that is a good sign. If this is motivation for underclassman who have been inconsistent all year, that is even better.
Collin Gillespie was ice cold all game, starting 0-5, and 0-3 from three (finished just 1-6), before finishing with just 2 points on the night. It goes without saying that another frigid night from him will be difficult to overcome, especially if the team collectively goes as cold as they did tonight.
Eric Paschall was a late arrival finishing with 12 points on 4-11 shooting, but producing when Villanova needed it most. Saddiq Bey had a nice performance, totaling 10 points and 9 rebounds. Jermaine Samuels finished with 17 points and 9 rebounds.
Phil Booth led the Wildcats with 28 points on 9-20 shooting, and 4-10 from deep.
The Wildcats will face the winner of #2 Marquette vs. #3 Seton Hall tomorrow night from Madison Square Garden. Let’s get another ‘chip.