CINCINNATI — Villanova’s dominance of Xavier continued Wednesday night, but barely.
Collin Gillespie scored a team-high 21 points while Eric Dixon was a force in the paint with 15 points and 10 rebounds as No. 14 Villanova held off No. 17 Xavier, 64-60, before a frenzied house at Cintas Center.
The Wildcats (12-4, 5-1 Big East) improved to 30-6 all-time against Xavier and 16-4 under coach Jay Wright.
Justin Moore chipped in with 16 points, including two free throws with six seconds left to seal the win.
Villanova overcame a double-digit deficit in its 71-58 win Dec. 21 at Finneran Pavilion. The Wildcats had no such issue Wednesday. They rode an 11-0 run to open a 34-17 first-half lead and held on in the second half to win for their fifth straight.
“We’re really proud of our guys,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “Outstanding Xavier team. We knew there’s no way they were going to lay down. They were going to keep coming at us, which they did. They were great in the second half and we just gutted it out.
“Collin Gillespie was the only guy that wasn’t in foul trouble. Everybody else was in foul trouble. We had the whole team in foul trouble. Jermaine Samuels played hurt. [Brandon] Slater played hurt and we just gutted it out. Really proud of the guys against a great Xavier team.”
The Wildcats had to withstand a scoring drought of 5 minutes, 10 seconds late in the second half, as Xavier cut a 12-point lead to two with 4:11 minutes left.
The Musketeers’ Paul Scruggs drained a three with 2:17 left to tie the game, 56-56. Moore responded with a drive to the basket for a layup and converted the free throw with 1:52 left to put Villanova up, 59-56. Brandon Slater hit one of two free throws with 1:08 left for a 60-56 lead.
Scruggs missed a potential game-tying layup with 20 seconds remaining and Moore boosted the Cats’ lead to four with 6 seconds left. Jack Nunge’s three-pointer for Xavier as time expired was waved off.
Wright was especially proud of Gillespie’s performance.
“I just thought he was a just a true warrior, man,” the coach said. “He did everything. He played 35 minutes and defended [Nate] Johnson and led us obviously a lot of times when we didn’t have starters in there with fouls. Jermaine was out with fouls. Justin was out with fouls. Slater was out with fouls. Collin just stayed in there, carried us, did an amazing job. It’s just great to have a leader like that.”
He felt fortunate to escape with the victory.
“They played really physical, especially in the second half,” Wright said. “And this atmosphere is a great college atmosphere here in Cintas Center. The crowd’s loud and felt we had a lot of tough breaks go against us. That’s why it’s tough to win on the road. So I’m really proud of our guys.”