It was a big night for Xavier, they had the pleasure of playing against the #6 team in the nation on their Senior Night. With Matt Stainbrook sitting out the game due to a knee injury, in came the big opportunity for freshman Jalen Reynolds. For Reynolds, it was his first career start. Villanova was looking to clinch the Big East regular season title. Xavier was looking for another big win for their tournament resume.
The Musketeers rode the wave of emotion to a 7-0 start. Along the way, Villanova could not get things going, and shot 0 for 5 during this time. James Bell was tagged with a flagrant one when his elbow brushed against the face of Xavier’s Isaiah Philmore. He wasn’t the only one to be in foul trouble early in the game, JayVaughn Pinkston was too. Ryan Arcidiacono would start things up with a three pointer for Villanova. From there it was like putting the key in the ignition, the car was running. They would go 14 for 20 after the slow start. Villanova would tie it up and from there it would go back and forth. A Darrun Hilliard three would give them their first lead of the game. The Wildcats would hold onto the lead. Hilliard led the way in the previous game against Marquette and he did the same for most of the half. He had 15 points in the first half alone. The Wildcats would take a 41-36 lead into halftime.
The second half began with a bang. James Bell scored his 1,000th point off of a big alley-oop dunk with the feed from Arcidiacono. The rest of the game was relatively quieter than how it first began. Fouls, turnovers, and empty handed opportunities resulted in a slower pace in scoring. The stats may not reflect it because there was a scoring splurge towards the closing minutes of the half, but for a majority of the half it was slower than the first half. For the first 15 minutes of the second half, there were a combined 37 points for both teams. (Both teams combined for 78 points in the first half.) Villanova kept Xavier at an arm’s distance away, hovering around a 6-10 point lead for the second half. Whenever it looked like the Musketeers were climbing back into the game, Villanova would get some separation. Xavier looked defeated as time was winding down until a series of events got them back in the game. Pinkston had a botched dunk or layup attempt that Xavier scooped up and quickly converted into a Dee Davis three pointer, making the score 71-65. From there, the Musketeers would not go away quietly. Semaj Christon would score with 24 seconds remaining, bringing Xavier to within 3. In the ensuing possession, Josh Hart would receive the inbound pass, he would be fouled and sent to the line. The birthday boy came up big. Hart sunk both free throws, silencing the Cintas Center. From there it was cruise control to the finish line. Bell would sink one last pair of free throws providing the last few points of the game. The final score was 77-70.
For Villanova, four different players scored in the double digits. Hilliard led the Wildcats in scoring with 19 points. Pinkston put up 15 points and 6 rebounds in the winning effort. Bell chipped in 12 points and grabbed 8 rebounds. Arcidiacono sunk three baskets from long range en route to an 11 point, 7 assist performance.
The Musketeers were paced by Justin Martin, who had a game-high 20 points. Senior forward Isaiah Philmore finished with 15 points. NBA draft prospect Semaj Christon made only 7 of 22 shot attempts for an 18 point game. He also dished out 6 assists.
The Wildcats clinch the Big East outright regular season title with the victory and improve to 27-3. This is their first regular season title since the 1981-1982 season. They will have one last regular season game before gearing up for the conference tournament. The Wildcats host rival Georgetown this Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center. Tip-off is at 2 p.m.
Happy Birthday Josh Hart!