Friday, March 07, 2014
Sports News

Villanova tops Xavier, wins Big East title

Send a link to a friend  Share

[March 07, 2014]  CINCINNATI  So much for preseason prognostications, even when it comes to coaches.

Villanova was picked to finish fourth in the first year of the reconfigured Big East by the coaches, but the Wildcats claimed the program's first conference regular-season title in eight years and their first outright league title in 32 years by holding off a late Xavier rally and beating the Musketeers 77-70 on Thursday night at the Cintas Center in front of a capacity crowd of 10,340.

Junior guard Darrun Hilliard scored 19 points as No. 6 Villanova improved to 27-3 overall and 15-2 in the Big East. The win adds to Villanova's school record for regular-season victories.

The Wildcats led by 12 points, 69-57, with 1:35 remaining before Xavier (20-11, 10-8) cut the lead to 73-70 with 21.1 seconds left. Guard Josh Hart and forward James Bell each made two free throws to seal the victory for Villanova.

Bell, a senior, finished with 12 points, pushing him past 1,000 for his career. He now has scored 1,006 points for the Wildcats.

Bell had little thought about surpassing that individual mark, however. He was more concerned with what the Wildcats completed and what they still have in front of them.

"It's a big accomplish," Bell said. "It's a testament to how hard we work and where we came from. It's definitely a big accomplishment, but we can't stop here. We've got to keep getting better as a team and take it as far as we can go."

Villanova last won the Big East regular-season title in 2006 when it shared it with Syracuse. The only other time the Wildcats won the Big East outright was in 1982. Villanova will have the top seed in next week's Big East tournament regardless of the outcome of Saturday's home finale against Georgetown.

Creighton, which has handed Villanova its two conference losses, will be seeded second. The Big East tournament begins Wednesday at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Villanova has proved it can play anywhere. Thursday's win improved the Wildcats to 13-2 in road and neutral court games.

"Our play on the road has just been incredible," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "You're not going to win any championships if you can't win on the road and I thought tonight was a great example. You're playing an outstanding team in a tough environment.

"We have great respect for this league, and to win this league is really a hell of an accomplishment."

Xavier got 20 points from forward Justin Martin and 18 points from guard Semaj Christon, but it was not enough to keep the Musketeers from dropping just their second game at home this season. Xavier made just 6 of 24 3-point shots, including missing its first 11 attempts in the second half.


[to top of second column]

Xavier's regular season is complete. The Musketeers, who were picked to finish seventh in the preseason conference poll, can finish anywhere from third to fifth place in the Big East depending on results of games on Saturday.

"We just have to wait and see now," Christon said. "It's a new season now. We're starting from scratch. All of the things we've done this season don't matter. You lose, you go home.

"So you've got to do what you've got to do to keep playing, to keep whatever you've got alive. I think we'll be ready to bounce back and do what we've got to do."

Xavier coach Chris Mack believes his team has done what it needs to do to return to the NCAA tournament after missing the cut last year.

"We're going to finish the year with 20 wins, our strength of schedule right now sits at (No.) 20 and history has shown that any team with a top-20 schedule in the country that finishes with 20 wins is an NCAA tournament team. Period," Mack said.

Hilliard had a career-high 26 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field last Sunday against Marquette. He made 6-of-10 shots against Xavier, including 5-of-8 in the first half. Forward JayVaughn Pinkston added 15 points and six rebounds, and guard Ryan Arcidiacono had 11 points. Hilliard, Arcidiacono and forward Kris Jenkins each made three 3-pointers.

Eight Wildcats scored in the first half, led by Hilliard with 13 points, and Villanova led 41-36 at halftime. The Wildcats made half of their 12 3-point shots in the half while shooting 14-of-25 (56 percent) from the field.

Xavier got 12 first-half points from Martin and kept things close by making 11 of 12 free throws.

The game was tied five times and featured five lead changes in the first half.

NOTES: Xavier played without junior C Matt Stainbrook, who suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament during the Musketeers' 71-62 loss at Seton Hall on Monday. ... Villanova coach Jay Wright is a cousin to new Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. ... Xavier freshman G Myles Davis ended a four-game basket-less streak with a 3-pointer in the first half. Davis had missed 12 consecutive shots from the field, including nine 3-pointers, before his shot with 6:48 left in the half gave Xavier a 26-24 lead.

[ 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

< Sports index

Back to top