The Villanova Wildcats were able to pick up their second consecutive top 25 ranked and Quad 1 win, defeating the 19th-ranked Creighton Bluejays, 79-67, behind a career game by Eric Dixon.
It was a rocky up-and-down season filled with various challenges, but Villanova appears to be peaking at the right time and establishing itself as a team others will not want to face in the Big East Tournament.
“Nobody wants to see that team in the Garden, nobody,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “You know, they’ve got too many guys that have had success in that building.”
With the win, the Wildcats improve to 15-14 overall and 9-9 in Big East play which is good for a tie of sixth-place in the Big East. Creighton falls to 18-11 overall and 12-6 in Big East play, essentially ending their hopes of the two-seed in the Big East Tournament.
It was, by far, the best Villanova has looked all season. The ‘Cats were clicking on all cylinders. Eric Dixon was unstoppable from anywhere on the court, Justin Moore was the facilitator the Wildcats greatly needed, Cam Whitmore was aggressive while still taking good shots, and Mark Armstrong looked extremely comfortable offensively and they locked down as a team on defense.
Creighton came into the game averaging 76.1 points per game, and the Wildcats held them to 67 shooting only 39.0% from the field and 19.2% from three.
“Defensively, you look at that first half, they had only  points at the end of the half,” Villanova coach Kyle Neptune said of the ‘Cats defense. “That’s really what did it because if they got out like they can, they can easily score 80 points. They can easily do that, but I thought defensively we did a good job of being locked into the game plan.”
Eric Dixon helped set the tone early, netting 18 of his 31 points in the first half, including four of his six made 3-pointers. His shooting success forced seven-footer Ryan Kalkbrenner to defend out to the three-point line all game. Dixon dominated reigning Big East Defensive Player of the Year Kalkbrenner finishing with a career-high 31 points on 11-of-15 shooting, converting every big shot when Creighton made a run.
“We ran into a buzzsaw today,” McDermott said. “We’ve got one of the elite defensive players in the country at the rim and Villanova was able to turn our different defense inside-out with Dixon’s ability to stretch the floor. Once he hit some, I think we got caught in between some Should we go, should we stay and now we’re giving up threes and we’re giving up layups. They did a great job attacking us and Dixon making early threes certainly set the tone for the game.”
Neptune reiterated McDermott’s point and hinted that getting Dixon early threes was apart of the gameplan.
“We come in with the things that we know we like,” Neptune said of Dixon’s career game today. ”We knew [Kalkbrenner] was going to play off a little bit. We think he got those same shots at Creighton but made them this game,”
Dixon said the last time he had a game like today was probably in high school but in typical Villanova fashion, attributed it to his teammates.
“My teammates just kept finding me,” Dixon said. “My teammates [were] looking for me in a spot that I’m comfortable and they know me well, I’ve been here for four years.”
Cam Whitmore contributed 17 points and five rebounds. Mark Armstrong added a spark off the bench with 11 points and five rebounds. Moore showed of his playmaking, logging eight points, eight assists and zero turnovers.
The freshmen matured and were a huge proponent to Villanova’s victory today.
“I feel like we have grown as a team,” Neptune said of this team’s maturity. “We had a young team. We have even our older guys in completely different roles. So we just had to battle in the beginning of the year and thank God our guys just continue to get better and better. Our goal is always to be the best team we can be by the end [of the year].”
Whitmore credits his efficient game to Justin Moore being the leader this team needs.
“Just how he approaches himself,” Whitmore said of Moore’s impact. “How he’s just a leader telling people where to go and just how to build each other up.”
For the Bluejays, Arthur Kaluma led the way with 19 points and six rebounds. Kalkbrenner had a solid game offensively, finishing with 18 points. Baylor Scheierman added another 10 points.
Tuesday night, the Wildcats have a chance to lock in the six seed in the Big East Tournament as they travel to Newark to face the Seton Hall Pirates at 8:30 p.m. ET on FS1. This is the penultimate game of the season – the Wildcats will look to continue their momentum.