Villanova prepared for the Creighton team that runs the highest-scoring and fastest-paced offense in the Big East. What the Wildcats got Wednesday night was a team that walked the ball up the court and played long possessions without two injured starters and a third who was on a minutes restriction.
The style almost worked against the 14th-ranked Cats, who were forced into overtime tied at 49 against a team that averages more than 82 points per game. But they dominated the extra period, and Phil Booth recovered from a poor shooting night with a key three-pointer to defeat the Bluejays, 66-59, for their 11th straight win.
The Wildcats (19-4, 10-0 Big East) became the first team since Connecticut in the 1998-99 season to start a season 10-0 in the conference. But in a game that saw neither team lead by more than four points in regulation time, they had to grind out every minute against the Bluejays (13-10, 4-6).
“They completely changed their style of play and executed it perfectly,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “It was one of those games where they had a really good game plan, and we were trying to survive. We missed the front end of some 1-and-1s. We missed some easy looks. In those games, you’ve got find a way and I’m proud of our guys.”
Creighton’s leading scorer, guard Ty-Shon Alexander, missed the game after suffering an undisclosed injury in Tuesday’s practice. The Bluejays already were without Marcus Zegarowski, their No. 3 scorer, who suffered a broken right pinkie finger in Sunday’s win over Xavier.
Starting forward Damien Jefferson, who practiced Tuesday for the first time after recovering from an injury, played just nine minutes.
Creighton coach Greg McDermott called it “a lineup we never played before, a style we never played before.”
It almost paid off. The Bluejays took their last lead, 48-45, on Davion Mintz’s three-point basket with 4 minutes, 37 seconds in regulation, but two driving layups by Booth, who had been 2 of 11 from the field up to that point, put the Wildcats ahead by one with 1:05 remaining.
Creighton’s Kaleb Joseph then went to the line for three free throws with 37.1 seconds left but made only one to make it 49-49, and, with the last shot of regulation, missed a 12-foot runner.
After the teams traded three-point baskets in the first 28 seconds of overtime, the Wildcats took control over their fatigued opponent. One of the biggest plays was Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree’s rebound of a missed free throw by Collin Gillespie and put-back dunk. Booth later hit his only three-pointer of the night for a 58-52 lead with 1:28 to play and the Bluejays never got closer.
Saddiq Bey scored a career-high 17 points to lead Villanova. Eric Paschall added 15 points, Booth 14 and Gillespie 13. Booth shot just 5 of 17 but grabbed a team-high eight rebounds and dished out four assists. Mintz, who played all 45 minutes, led Creighton with 19 points.
“It’s a tough team to play against, their style of play,” Booth said. “They have so many guys that can shoot the ball, and we have to make sure we stayed connected defensively, tried to stay locked in the whole game. This game took 45 minutes to make it happen. But it’s just a very good team.”
The Wildcats took a two-game lead over 10th-ranked Marquette in the conference standings going into Saturday’s showdown game in Milwaukee.