In another last-second thriller, the Villanova Wildcats took down the Creighton Bluejays, 54-48, for their fifth Big East title in eight years.
With 15 seconds remaining, Villanova’s Justin Moore converted on a tough layup to clinch the Big East Championship. Collin Gillespie then iced the game with two clutch free-throws.
The game was anything but pretty, as both teams shot under 35% from the field despite having a good amount of open looks.
At the end of an ugly first half, ‘Nova led 19-18 and Creighton had not hit a three, going 0-for-13 from beyond the arc.
While the Bluejays never truly found their shooting groove, they led Villanova 45-44 with 3:49 remaining in the game after a tip-in basket from 7-foot-1 center Ryan Kalkbrenner.
Kalkbrenner’s height and dominance in the paint were big problems for the Wildcats, but the solution was, once again, Collin Gillespie’s clutch play.
At the 2:49 mark, Gillespie splashed a 3-pointer to make it 47-44 in Villanova’s favor. In the very next possession, he hit another shot from beyond the arc with 2:09 left in the game to make it 50-44.
Villanova head coach Jay Wright, a self-proclaimed pessimist, is surprised once in a while when Gillespie’s late-game shots go in.
“I’m always prepared for the next play if we don’t score,” Wright said. “So I’m still kind of surprised when he makes those plays. It’s incredible. But we put it in his hands to make those plays.”
Gillespie had 17 points, seven rebounds, and five assists in his return to Big East Tournament action after COVID and injuries kept him away from the conference’s biggest stage the last three years.
For his efforts, he was named the Big East Tournament Most Outstanding Player. He is the first player in Big East men’s basketball history to earn Player of the Year, Scholar-Athlete of the Year, and the Dave Gavitt Trophy as Tournament Most Outstanding Player.
When this news was brought to Gillespie’s attention, he wasted no time thanking others for their help.
“If you told me [that I won all of these awards] five years ago I don’t know if I would have believed you,” Gillespie said. “But that’s just a credit to the staff and how hard they push me and my teammates and instill confidence in me.”
Creighton head coach Doug McDermott thought his squad had ample opportunities to upset ‘Nova. But, he also recognized Gillespie’s greatness by coining an interesting term in his honor.
“Tonight, I thought we had some pretty good looks at the basket,” McDermott said. “And we didn’t make them. And obviously, Villanova’s defense needs to be credited. But once we started going inside/out, I thought we got some of what we wanted. And then at the end we got ‘Gillespied.’”
Yet, according to Wright, Gillespie’s back-to-back threes were not the shots that put away Creighton.
“Collin was exhausted,” said Wright. “So we put the ball in Justin’s hands to make the right play, and he finished the game off.”
“That’s why you win championships when you have guards like this.”
Moore had 16 points and six rebounds in his performance, which was key when Jermaine Samuels and Brandon Slater were not producing offensively like they did last night.
Moore’s clutch basket to claim the Big East title did not completely satisfy him though, as he made it clear that he and his team have work to do in the coming days.
“No matter what happens, you come back and get better the next day,” Moore said. “Whether we lose or win, we’re going to come back and get better.”
One area ‘Nova may need to improve upon is its paint protection. Kalkbrenner had 19 points and eight rebounds and used his height to post up and give the Wildcats trouble.
‘Nova was outscored 30-16 in the paint, and future height disadvantages will be something the ‘Cats will have to prepare for in their next big tournament: March Madness.
With the Big East title, Villanova earns an automatic bid for the upcoming tournament, and more importantly, a likely position as a No. 2 seed. As many should remember, the Wildcats had that same seed in 2016 and went on to win it all.
Now, Nova Nation waits for Sunday, 6 p.m. ET, when the ‘Cats will find out what seed they are for certain during Selection Sunday. Then, Villanova will get ready for the Big Dance.