It was a duel between the two hottest offenses that the Big East has to offer. Villanova and Xavier squared off Wednesday night. Xavier had the top offense coming into the game, slightly edging the Wildcats by a few more points per game. However, it would be Villanova coming out on top, asserting their dominance early.
Just as they did during the DePaul game, the Wildcats came out firing from long range. Darrun Hilliard started the game up with a three pointer. The ball plopped smoothly through the basket, sending the Pavilion into a frenzy. This was the first game that Villanova students were able to attend since Christmas Break ended. They were a little antsy but exploded with energy, as their cheers echoed throughout the stadium. Hilliard came back and supplied another basket, this time a layup off of a nice drive to the basket. Xavier’s Matt Stainbrook countered with a basket to get the Musketeers on the board. The bullish 6’10” center powered his way inside, but finished with a finesse hook shot. He was the leading force for the Musketeers, with a team-high of nine first half points.
Villanova’s fluid ball movement on offense did what it does best, result in great shot opportunities. While Xavier shut down the paint, the Wildcats still found a way to pick apart the Xavier defense.
“JayVaughn and Ochefu do a great job of playing off of one another,” said Xavier head coach Chris Mack. “We felt like a big key to the game was not allowing those two do damage. Maybe we paid too much attention to those guys.”
That’s when the Wildcats came back with a three, another three, and another three…
Ryan Arcidiacono, Dylan Ennis, and Josh Hart piled on buckets from long range to give Villanova a 14-4 lead early in the game. The performance felt identical to the previous game against DePaul, as they seemed unstoppable from beyond the arc. Over half of their points came from three point range. The Wildcats knocked down 9 of 18 three point attempts, en route to a 45-27 halftime lead over the Musketeers.
“We’ve just stuck to what we do well,” said Dylan Ennis. “We catch and shoot; we have great shooters. We were patient today and we were getting open looks.”
With such a dominant first half performance, it appeared that the Wildcats would be able to go on cruise control until the final buzzer. Early in the second half, Villanova was able to stretch their lead into the twenties. However, the Musketeers had other plans. They displayed flashes of resilience, cutting into Villanova’s big lead and giving a little bit of a scare. Xavier became more vigilant on the perimeter, while maintaining their lockdown defense inside. The Wildcats cooled down and did not find the same success from long range that they had in the first half. In the second half alone, they were 6-for-16 from three point range.
Stainbrook sank a layup with 9:50 left to cap off an 11-0 Xavier run that pulled Villanova’s lead down to 12. Ennis and Arcidiacono sank back-to-back threes to quell the spurt, but the Musketeers came back. Later in the game, a three pointer by J.P. Macura brought Xavier to within ten, with 5:10 remaining. An 8-0 run replenished Villanova’s lead and closed the door for any possible comebacks. Tensions ran high on the floor as the game got more competitive, a series of fouls on both sides slowed the tempo of the game down near the end. Regardless, Villanova hung on to win 88-75. “We have to get a little better at finishing but overall we had a good game,” said Villanova head coach Jay Wright.
Five different players scored in the double-digits for the Wildcats. Ryan Arcidiacono had a game-high 18 points and six assists. Dylan Ennis poured in 17 points, six rebounds, and four assists. Together, Arcidiacono and Ennis were 9-for-16 from long range. Josh Hart added 15 points and seven rebounds off the bench. Five of Hart’s boards came offensively. JayVaughn Pinkston had 12 points and three rebounds. Darrun Hilliard chipped in 10 points and six assists. Overall, Villanova was 15-for-34 from long range. Their 15 three-pointers is a new season high. Also, they were 17-for-19 (89.5%) from the foul line, another season best.
The Musketeers were paced by Matt Stainbrook. The senior center finished with 17 points and five boards. J.P. Macura added 14 points and was 4-for-8 from long range. Jalen Reynolds had 14 points and five rebounds.
Villanova improves to 16-1 overall. The Wildcats resume action this Saturday at 7:30 p.m., when they take on the Penn Quakers. It will be their final Big 5 game of the season.