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No. 23 Villanova powers past No. 18 Xavier, 71-58

The Wildcats are back in the win column.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Villanova Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Villanova rallied past Xavier Tuesday night in a game where Jermaine Samuels scored his 1,000th career point.

After trailing by eight at halftime, the Wildcats outscored Xavier by 21 in the second half to win their first Big East game of the season. After coming off two straight losses, this is one the ‘Cats had to have. The team also dropped to No. 23 in the AP Poll, but Villanova coach Jay Wright didn’t care about where they were ranked.

“When we are ranked high, we don’t talk about it, it doesn’t matter until the last game of the year,” Wright said. “We really don’t pay attention to it. We don’t really pay attention to it when we’re ranked low. What matters is where we are at the end of the year, what kind of team we are at the end of the year. This team has a lot of work to do to be the best they can be.”

The ‘Cats took a one point lead at the under 12 media timeout, 44-43. Momentum had shifted back to Villanova and the crowd was back into it. The contest went back and forth before the game was tied at 51.

Daniels and Gillespie both hit back to back three-pointers to put the ‘Cats up six, 57-51. Xavier would not go away though, as they scored the next five to cut the Villanova lead to two, 57-55. Xavier would get no further, as Villanova went on a 8-0 and pulled away for the win, 71-58.

Villanova outscored Xavier 40-22 in the paint and took less outside shots than usual. Villanova only shot 21 three-pointers which was down from the Creighton and Baylor games. However, the Wildcats’ defense down the stretch contributed to their big second half.

“I think that was one of the best halves defensively so far this year,” Wright said. “I think Caleb Daniels had a big deal to do with that. He did a great job off the ball, he was really active.”

Eric Dixon had his best game of the season with 15 points and eight rebounds. He established his presence early by scoring Villanova’s first four points. He will be a force in Big East play and Wright knows how important of a game it was for him to have.

“You have to do it against good teams,” Wright said. “I think Xavier is really good, they’ve pounded some teams. For him to do that against them, he played well against some really good forwards. He’s a smart guy, he knows he can do it against a really good team.”

Down early 7-4, Villanova went on a 5-0 spurt to take a 9-7 lead. Immediately, Xavier went on a 6-0 run to take the lead right back at the first media timeout. They would not trail again in the half, and led 38-30 at halftime. The story of the first half was the difference in the teams’ three-point shooting. Xavier started 6-6 from three-point range and finished the half 6-9. Villanova on the other hand went 1-10 from behind the arc, with the lone triple coming from Justin Moore.

Dixon led the ‘Cats in the first half with nine points, three of them coming from the free throw line. Gillespie was right behind Dixon with nine points.

Nate Johnson led the Musketeers with 11 points after the first half, while Odom chipped in with seven. Xavier was limited to just 8-of-27 overall (29.6%) in the second half and it didn’t make a single three.

With the win, Villanova improves to 8-4 on the season and evens up their conference record at 1-1. Villanova will look to sweep the Big 5 when they host Temple on Wednesday December 29 at 9 p.m. from the Pavilion.