Tonight’s visit to the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Nebraska, conjured up some horrible memories of the heartbreaking loss that the Wildcats suffered last season. The newly ranked #4 team was not going to ease its way to victory over the sub-.500 Creighton Bluejays. It seemed that Villanova’s 1-seed hopes were in peril, as Creighton put them on upset alert for most of the night.
The game was tied at nine points each, thanks to an Austin Chatman three-pointer in opening minutes of the game. Moments later, Creighton’s James Milliken made a three to take the lead. Rick Kreklow came back to supply another long range basket to give the Bluejays a 15-9 edge over Villanova with 11:51 remaining. Meanwhile, the Wildcats suffered from a long dry spell. Their shots would not go in, some because of a great defensive effort by their opponents. Creighton paid most of their attention to the perimeter, not allowing Villanova’s shooters to have any room. The Wildcats beat them from beyond the arc the last time these two teams met, the Bluejays were not going to let history repeat itself. They disrupted passing lanes, created tight on-ball pressure, and made Villanova uncomfortable. Had Creighton been a more dangerous team offensively, this could have easily been a tougher game. The Wildcats defense allowed them to stay in it, although it felt they were miles apart.
Finally, Dylan Ennis drained a basket from beyond the arc to put an end to Villanova’s drought, making it 15-12 in Creighton’s favor. Ennis’ basket came almost eight minutes after the last one. Ennis would take control of the game early, making nine of Villanova’s first 14 points. Outside of the redshirt junior guard, there wasn’t much to be pleased about. The Wildcats went cold after Ennis’ three, suffering from another drought.
This time around, Ryan Arcidiacono would get the Wildcats out of their slump. He would score seven straight points to bring Villanova back into the game. A pair of Arcidiacono free throws brought the Wildcats to within three points of the Bluejays, with 3:28 remaining in the first half.
A sweet hook shot by Daniel Ochefu would eventually tie the game up at 26, but it wouldn’t last for long. Creighton regained the lead. The Bluejays’ three point lead was cut to a mere point after Darrun Hilliard made a layup just before the half. Creighton led 30-29 going into the break.
The second half was a different story. Instead of a lackluster offensive performance, both teams found their shooting stroke in the second half. The Wildcats came out guns blazing, storming out of the locker room to take the lead. Villanova was reborn, looking like their usual self. The Wildcats outscored the Bluejays 22-10 to start the second half. A mid-range jumper by Phil Booth stretch Villanova’s lead into double figures.
Creighton fought back and refused to go away. Whenever it looked like the Wildcats were pulling away, the Bluejays were right on their tails. They had an answer for everything, keeping it close for the rest of the second half.
Trailing 66-62, Creighton’s Chatman sank a three pointer to make it a one point game. After a turnover by Dylan Ennis, Chatman delivered again. This time, the senior guard was fouled and sank both subsequent free throws to give Creighton the lead. Jay Wright used his last time out with 58 seconds remaining in the game.
Down by one, the Wildcats looked to Arcidiacono, who is known for stepping up in clutch situations. Once again, he answered the call. Arcidiacono blew by Chatman, driving to the basket and finishing with a layup. He was fouled along the way and he converted the following free throw. After a turnover by Devin Brooks, Villanova’s Hilliard supplied another two points off of free throws.
Now sporting a four point lead with 27 seconds remaining, the Bluejays looked to Brooks again. Brooks could not get the layup to fall and Villanova grabbed the rebound. Phil Booth was fouled and made one of two free throws. Creighton responded with a quick two points.
Arcidiacono received the inbounds pass and was fouled. He made both free throws to extend Villanova’s lead back to five. It seemed like the game was put away until Austin Chatman sank a quick three pointer. The Bluejays were back in it, down 74-72 with seven seconds remaining. All Villanova had to do now was not mess up the inbounds play.
The Wildcats didn’t, but Arcidiacono was whistled for a foul that turned the ball over to Creighton. With the game on the line, Will Artino received the ball around the perimeter. The senior center drove his way to the basket, with Ochefu covering him. His layup was short, hitting the left rim and fell into the hands of Ryan Arcidiacono. Arcidiacono was fouled with 0.4 seconds remaining. He made both free throws to put the game away for good. The Wildcats hung on, winning 76-72.
Ryan Arcidiacono and Dylan Ennis combined for 42 of Villanova’s 76 points. Arcidiacono had a game-high 23 points, with four rebounds and two assists to go along with them. Ennis finished with 19 points and three steals. Daniel Ochefu fell just short of a double-double, notching nine points and nine rebounds.
For Creighton, four players finished in double figures. Austin Chatman led the way with 21 points, five rebounds, and two assists. Devin Brooks and James Milliken both had 12 points. Rick Kreklow added another 11 points.
The Wildcats improve to 28-2. They will head back to Philadelphia for the season finale. They will take on the St. John’s Red Storm at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday. Tip-off is at 2 p.m.