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Villanova escapes Xavier, 64-60, for another Big East road win

The 'Cats were able to hang on against the Musketeers in a really close finish.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Xavier Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Villanova defeated Xavier, 64-60, on Wednesday night, improving to 12-4 and 5-1 in the Big East.

With this victory, the Wildcats move past Providence to take first place for themselves in the Big East.

Villanova dominated in the first half, taking a 38-27 lead. The ‘Cats even led by as many as 17 at one point, but a 14-2 run by Xavier tied the game at 56. The ‘Cats were able to hang on after a clutch three-point play by Justin Moore from a driving layup in the final moments of the game.

“Xavier was great in the second half,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “We just gutted it out. Collin Gillespie may have been the only guy not in foul trouble. It seemed like the whole team was in foul trouble. Jermaine Samuels played hurt, Brandon Slater played hurt. We just gutted it out. I’m really proud of our guys getting this win against a great Xavier team.

“(Xavier) played really physical, especially in the second half. This atmosphere is a great college basketball atmosphere. The crowd is loud, we had a lot of tough breaks go against us. That’s why it’s tough to win on the road and that’s why I’m proud of our guys.”

Collin Gillespie led the way with 21 points, scoring at every level. Gillespie made five shots under the arc, two 3-pointers, and knocked down all five of his free throws.

“I thought he was a true warrior, he did everything tonight,” Wright said of Gillespie. “He played 35 minutes, defended Nate Johnson, led us — and a lot of times without starters because of the foul trouble. He just did an amazing job, it’s great to have a leader like that.”

Although Gillespie was the leading scorer, Eric Dixon may have been more impressive. Dixon collected his second career double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds.

“It’s exciting to be there for my teammates,” Dixon said. “At the end of the day, they give me the ball and they trust me to make the right decisions and be tough with it, or pass out and be unselfish or make another decision — whatever it may be. It’s exciting to be out there in that way for them.”

Justin Moore also was in double figures with 15 points and grabbing nine rebounds himself. Caleb Daniels played a season high 31 minutes and was crucial after Jermaine Samuels and Brandon Slater fouled out.

Xavier’s leading scorer on the season, Nate Johnson, led the way with 15 points while shooting 55.6% from the floor. Paul Scruggs, their super senior, had 15 points as well and Colby Jones had 10 rebounds.

Although the Musketeers gave the Wildcats a scare at the end, Villanova was able to hold them off and hang on for the win to earn its fifth straight Big East win, and complete the series sweep of Xavier.

“We just trusted each other,” Dixon said. “I’ve been with these guys for three years, most of them. The young guys are coming along well, and they trust us. It’s just trust and that’s the biggest factor.”

After Wednesday night, the Wildcats are headed home from their Midwest road trip for a two-game home stand. They return to action on Sunday for a 12 p.m. ET matinee against the Butler Bulldogs. It will be Villanova’s first Wells Fargo Center game of the season.

“We gotta keep getting better, we have a lot of work to do,” Wright said. “We gotta get some guys healthy. We gotta get Jermaine Samuels and Brandon Slater healthy. It’s hard to tell Jermaine he doesn’t get to play because of foul trouble. We still gotta get better, we’re not taking care of the ball well. A lot of it was their physicality. We gotta get used to that, especially when we’re on the road.”