Earlier today, the Wildcats made it official. With the Georgetown Hoyas en route to a double digit loss to the St. John’s Red Storm, Villanova-Xavier was getting ready to tip-off. It was the Wildcats’ time to add the exclamation point right next to the regular season outright title. After today’s win at the Cintas Center, it was all theirs for the taking.
It wasn’t easy. It was Xavier’s Senior Day, adding to the emotions of the packed Cintas Center. Daniel Ochefu got the Wildcats going with the first basket of the game. The junior center went right at Xavier star Matt Stainbrook, posting up and finishing with a finesse right hook. The Musketeers came back with a complete team effort, gunning straight for the #6 ranked Wildcats. Xavier took a page out of Villanova’s playbook, knocking down three pointers and getting everyone involved. The Musketeers were 7-for-13 (53.8%) from three point range in the first half. They also found success inside, feeding the frontcourt with well placed entry passes that led to easy baskets. Meanwhile, Villanova had a hard time scoring. Xavier came with a much better defensive effort than presented in the first game. They closed down on the perimeter, not giving away any good looks from outside. Villanova’s shooters were contained for the most part, all except for Dylan Ennis. The junior guard led all players in first half scoring with 14 points. Ennis had the hot hand from downtown and was not going to be stopped. He sank four long range baskets, giving Villanova the much-needed scoring. The Musketeers closed out the half with an 8-0 run that brought the crowd to its feet. They took a 40-33 lead into the break.
The Wildcats lived up to their reputation of being a second half team. Their offense was revitalized. Villanova shot better from beyond the arc and overall on the floor. The Wildcats were 14-for-28 (50.0%) overall in the second half, much better than their 13-of-33 (39.4%) shooting from the previous half. A Darrun Hilliard mid-range jumper gave the Wildcats their first lead since earlier in the first half. The Wildcats now had a narrow 53-52 lead with 10:25 left in the game. It didn’t last long, as both teams would trade baskets. A few minutes later, Kris Jenkins made a shot from beyond the arc to regain the lead, only to have Trevon Bluiett make a three for Xavier. Jenkins came back and made another three pointer. Thanks to Jenkins’ shot, Villanova had a 59-57 lead with 7:57 remaining.
It was the beginning of the end for the Musketeers. It sparked a 14-2 Villanova run to put them on top. The run was capped off by a Josh Hart three pointer to make it 70-59 with 4:23 left in the game. It was Hart’s first basket since leaving earlier in the game. He was hit in the back of the head by Jalen Reynolds‘ knee as he was going down. Xavier’s Bluiett finally put an end to the run when he drained a pair of free throws. The Wildcats’ run proved to be too much for the Musketeers to overcome. Villanova continued to pile on some more points, slowly easing their way to the finish line. The Wildcats won 78-66, spoiling the Senior Day festivities.
Dylan Ennis had a game-high 16 points. He made four baskets from long range, as well as five rebounds and five assists. Ryan Arcidiacono chipped in 15 points and six assists. Kris Jenkins, who was pivotal in the second half, finished with 14 points and five rebounds. Daniel Ochefu had a solid day, scoring ten points and grabbing eight boards.
For the Musketeers, most of the damage came from their sixth man, Jalen Reynolds. Reynolds had a team-high 15 points off of a perfect 6-for-6 shooting performance. He also had six rebounds. Trevon Bluiett was right behind him with 12 points and three rebounds. Matt Stainbrook had eight points, seven rebounds, and two blocks. His fellow senior, Dee Davis, finished with seven points and nine assists.
Villanova improves to a 27-2 overall record. They will continue their road trip on Tuesday night, when they head over to Omaha for a game with the Creighton Bluejays. Tip-off is at 9:15 p.m.
The Wildcats have successfully defended their regular season title, their second one in a row.