Maybe it’s actually about how you start and not how you finish. It was true in both meetings last year, when Creighton swept Villanova after getting off to fiery starts. This season, the same would be true, as Villanova flipped the script on their opponents.
“This time, we came out and just kept getting stops,” said Villanova head coach Jay Wright. The Wildcats capitalized on the Bluejays’ miscues. Creighton turned the ball over in five of their first eight possessions in the game. Villanova converted those turnovers into an easy 10 points to help them build a quick 15-0 lead. Their defense was stifling, contesting each shot attempt and clogging all of the passing lanes. On the other end, they ran their usual offense. Whenever the Wildcats can establish their crisp ball movement, it’s never a good sign for opposing teams. This time around, they seemed to make one noticeable adjustment. Villanova slowed the tempo down offensively, but cultivated their lead to grow rapidly. They left the Georgetown game behind them and got off to a hot start. Four of their first five baskets came from beyond the arc.
“We were eager to get back onto the court,” said Ryan Arcidiacono.
It took a while, but Creighton was able to get onto the board to end their drought and Villanova’s run. Tyler Clement drained a mid-range jumper to make it 15-2, with 12:42 remaining in the game. Creighton would add a pair of subsequent baskets to 15-6. Darrun Hilliard would respond with an athletic finish around the basket. JayVaughn Pinkston found Hilliard on a nice backdoor cut and the senior made the tough layup in traffic look easy. The senior guard had 14 points in the first half, leading Villanova to a 29-14 halftime lead. Hilliard also made four baskets from beyond the arc.
“As long as he’s aggressive all the time, it doesn’t matter,” said Jay Wright. “Tonight, Darrun was aggressive. He has to be that way all the time.”
The second half began with an Arcidiacono jumper to get Villanova going. Creighton started taking a different approach, taking inside to their hulking center, Geoffrey Groselle. Groselle sank a turnaround jumper and then brought down a powerful dunk that got the Creighton bench going. Jay Wright called for a time out to get his team settled down. His players responded positively to the break. After the time out, Josh Hart missed a three pointer, but came back to play hard-nosed defense. He stole the ball and took it back for a dunk that got the student section shaking. Creighton’s Austin Chatman answered with a three, but Villanova reclaimed the momentum quickly. Ryan Arcidiacono fed Daniel Ochefu in the post, who flushed it down with a nice dunk. For the most part Ochefu was quiet offensively, but made his presence known in other ways. Aside from grabbing rebounds, he had fine displays of hustle and passing.
Villanova was able to extend their lead. They kept coming close to pushing it into the twenties, finally breaking the threshold with 6:18 left in the game. Hilliard found an open Dylan Ennis for a three pointer. On the other end of the court, Villanova’s superb defensive effort continued in the second half. The Wildcats never allowed the Bluejays to take flight from long range, holding them to only 19% from downtown. It didn’t help Creighton that they continued to turn the ball over. By the end of the game, the Bluejays racked up 19 turnovers.
Hilliard sank a three pointer with 4:09 remaining in the game. The basket brought him up to 24 points – just two shy of his career high points in a game. He had 26 points in last year’s Marquette game. While he didn’t surpass the mark, that three pointer set a new career high for three pointers in a game. Hilliard’s six are a new career best.
By the end of the game, all three members of “The Bench Mob” checked into the game. Villanova ended up winning 71-50, a far cry from last year’s results. Villanova got the much-needed bounce back win, while Creighton’s woes continue. Not only did the Wildcats get their revenge, but they also personally extended the Bluejay’s losing streak to nine games.
When asked what made Villanova so different this year as opposed to last year, Creighton’s Austin Chatman said, “They played a little more together, as a team.” The Wildcats entered the game with an apparent determination and fire. Not only did they have the hot start, but they put their bodies at risk for the greater good of the game, whether they had to take charges or dive onto the floor for loose balls. Things like these may not show up on the box score, but it was noticeable. Their hustle helped lift them to victory.
Darrun Hilliard finished with 24 points, shooting 6-for-10 from long range, with five rebounds and two steals. Ryan Arcidiacono had 10 points and three assists. Daniel Ochefu chipped in seven points, eight rebounds, two assists, and three steals. Phil Booth had eight points and two assists, with no turnovers.
For Creighton, James Milliken was the lone player to finish in double digits, with 13 points. However, his game wasn’t the prettiest. He was 5-for-11 on the floor, including a 0-for-4 performance from three point range. Top scorer Austin Chatman also didn’t have the greatest game. Villanova did a good job of limiting the guard to just nine points with 3-for-14 shooting.
The Wildcats are now 18-2 for the season. Villanova will hit the road to take on the DePaul Blue Demons this Saturday. Tip-off is at 2 p.m.