New Year’s Eve is a time of celebration, a day where many look back on the previous year and wonder what the new year may bring. In a year where Villanova won its first championship in 31 years, it was only fitting that the year ended with a top-10 matchup against Big East rival and fellow undefeated team Creighton to see how the conference race will shape up moving forward.
Villanova was looking to win their 38th game of the calendar year, the most ever for a collegiate team, and Creighton served as a sure test for Jay Wright‘s team. Although Creighton leapt out to a blazing start, Villanova was able to rein in the potent Bluejay offense and win at the soldout CenturyLink Arena by a score of 80-70.
Creighton hit their first five shots of the game, and one point led by as much as 24-14. Though things looked grim for the Wildcats, they immediately went on an 11-0 run sparked by sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson.
Brunson, who scored a career high 27 points, single-handedly kept Villanova close early, hitting 5-of-6 three-pointers in the first half. Villanova only led for about 90 seconds in the first half, but had the lead going into halftime after senior forward Kris Jenkins sank a deep three to put Villanova up 42-41 with eight seconds left.
Leading the way for the Bluejays was freshman center Justin Patton. Patton, whose only Division I scholarship offer was from Creighton, bullied the Wildcats down low, finishing with 18 points, eight rebounds, and two blocks. Patton had the third best field goal percentage in all of basketball entering play (74.2 percent), and he lived up to expectations, shooting 9-of-12 (75.0 percent) on the floor.
He needed to do so, as star point guard Maurice Watson Jr. was in foul trouble all through the game, racking up two in the early minutes and fouling out with a minute left to play. Despite these troubles, however, Watson finished with six points and nine assists, many of which led to Patton dunks.
Naismith frontrunner Josh Hart had a slow start, but finished the game strong, ending with 18 points and 10 rebounds, including two crucial free throws in the final minute that sealed the game for the Wildcats.
Jenkins also scored 21, including three free throws on a pump fake that put Villanova up for good.
The main story of the game, however, was the physical Wildcat defense. Creighton came into play averaging 89.8 points per game and 44.6 percent from beyond the arc. Unfortunately for Creighton, it wasn’t able to establish the usual success it attains, finishing with 70 points and a less-than-desired 6-of-24 (25.0 percent) performance from deep.
The most notable player affected was leading scorer Marcus Foster, a junior transfer from Kansas State. Foster finished with 21 points, leading the Blue Jays, but shot only 9-of-20 (45.0 percent) overall, and a horrendous 2-of-11 from deep.
At the end of the game, Creighton’s offense, which led the Bluejays to their hot start, began to falter, and Villanova capitalized–with Hart, Jenkins, and Brunson putting away the game late with jumpers out of the post and timely free throw shooting
Villanova now moves to 14-0 on the year, extending its school-record win streak to 20 games. Next up on the slate for the Wildcats are the Butler Bulldogs, a team that recently suffered a loss to a struggling St. John’s team. Tip-off is this Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.