CINCINNATI – On a day when its three-point shots weren’t falling, Villanova managed to find a variety of other ways Saturday to get the ball in the basket.
The 12th-ranked Wildcats, who had knocked down 35 three-pointers in their previous two games, connected on just seven Saturday against Xavier, and their 24.1% accuracy rate was far below their 56.5% mark through the earlier part of the week. But they shot 56% from inside the arc and coupled that with tight defense in a 64-55 victory over the Musketeers.
The Cats (21-6, 10-4 Big East) quieted the sellout crowd of 10,647 at Cintas Center with different ways of getting to the rim and finishing against Xavier (17-10, 6-8) and a physical defense that limited their opponent to 35.7% shooting for the game.
When the Musketeers made their last run, cutting what was once a 14-point ‘Nova lead to seven, 46-39, on Tyrique Jones’ tip-in with 7 minutes, 42 seconds to play, they went the next 5:14 without a field goal.
The Villanova lead during that time got to 16, 57-41, on Saddiq Bey’s two free throws with 4:22 remaining. The Wildcats didn’t score again for two minutes and the Musketeers got the margin down down to 10, but a three-ball by Bey and a layup from Jermaine Samuels clinched the win, Villanova’s fourth in a row.
Bey connected on four of ‘Nova’s seven three-point baskets and led all scorers with 22 points. Samuels showed an array of shots from 10 feet and in and added 17 points and eight rebounds while freshman Justin Moore contributed 13 points, six rebounds and three assists.
Collin Gillespie, who had drained 12 three-point baskets against Temple and DePaul earlier in the week, was paid special attention by Xavier’s conference-best defense against the three-point shot and missed all six of his attempts from deep. But his six assists, including back-to-back feeds to Samuels for baskets at a key point of the game, played a significant role in the win.
The Wildcats actually outscored Xavier, 32-30, in the paint. The Musketeers made a living there in the teams’ first meeting, scoring 46 points in ‘Nova’s 68-62 win.
Jones, the Big East’s leading rebounder, grabbed 14 Saturday in addition to scoring a team-high 17 points, all in the second half, and Naji Marshall added 15. But Marshall and Paul Scruggs combined for nine of Xavier’s 13 turnovers, and Villanova held a 12-6 advantage in points off miscues.
Villanova coach Jay Wright: “We couldn’t get Collin going … they took him out of it. They’re really good at defending the three. I can’t really remember a good look that we got. Even the shots we took, they were there, they were contested. Then they forced us to score inside. I thought Jermaine had a couple of good post-ups. Saddiq got to the basket, had a couple of good post-ups. That’s something we’ve been gradually getting better at and we needed it today.”
Xavier coach Travis Steele: “They were the more aggressive, the more physical team today. I thought we defended Villanova pretty well, they’re obviously a very prolific shooting team. We tried to take away the three-point line as best as we possibly could. But I thought the game for us, at least, was lost on the offensive end. We’ve got to be able to finish around the rim a little better.”
Even though Jones posted his ninth straight double-double, Villanova centers Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree played effective defense against him in the first half, holding him scoreless as the Cats grabbed a nine-point halftime lead. Jones missed his first six shots but made five of his last seven while fouling out Robinson-Earl.