It has been a game marked on everyone’s calendar for weeks. No. 1 Villanova faced Big East opponent and No. 5 Xavier. The Wildcats fell 90-83 to the No. 5 team on the road in front of a sold out crowd in Cincinnati, OH. Both teams came into the game sitting 24-3, battling for the top spot in their conference as well as the nation.
Up until Wednesday night, Villanova was the only team in the Big East that Xavier has never beaten since joining the conference in 2013. Last time the two teams met, the Wildcats soundly embarrassed and defeated the Musketeers 95-64 on New Year’s Eve in Philadelphia. Villanova forced an astonishing 19 turnovers and committed 26 points off of turnovers to win by 31.
In an electric, loud atmosphere similar to a March Madness Final Four game at the Cintas Center in front of nine NBA scouts and 10,727 fans, the Musketeers won their first game over a team ranked No. 1 by the Associated Press since 2004. The Wildcats will most likely meet the Musketeers again, this time not in front of a sold-out crowd at the Cintas Center, but at Madison Square Garden in the Big East Tournament.
Jay Wright and his team are ranked in the top five nationally in defense, but on Wednesday night Xavier’s offense was a handful for the Wildcats. They shot 50% from the field and added 24 assists on 30 made field goals.
Point guard Edmond Sumner only played three minutes the first time the two teams matched up before leaving on a stretcher after a heart wrenching collision and fall. This game, Sumner showed just why his absence made a huge difference as his drives challenged the Wildcats defense the entire night to open up the Musketeers shooters.
The freshman PG finished with 19 points, 15 in the second half, and a career high nine assists, and six rebounds. J.P Macura also scored 19 points including consecutive three pointers to help the Musketeers take a 36-27 lead with 2:42 left in the first half.
Three Villanova players (Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Mikal Bridges) fouled out and a fourth, Daniel Ochefu dealt with foul trouble most of the night. Xavier went to the free throw line 33 times throughout the game, including 13 times by Sumner alone. The Wildcats also got outrebounded 42-33 and outscored in the paint 44-30 by Xavier.
Offensively, the Wildcats struggled with Xavier head coach Chris Mack’s 1-3-1 and man to man defenses. Josh Hart finished with 13 points, going 4-for-13 from the field and Ryan Arcidiacono went 3-for-11, 1-for-6 from three point range to finish with eight points.
Kris Jenkins led Villanova with 22 points, all of which were scored in the first 21 minutes of play before facing foul trouble in the second half. He picked up two early second half fouls, sat a long stretch, and then fouled out with 8:47 left in the game. In 19 minutes of play, Jenkins knocked down a trio of three pointers and a jumper in the first 8:13 of the game, but was limited due to foul trouble. Jalen Brunson chipped in with 12 points on the night.
With the win, Xavier snaps Villanova’s seven game winning streak and extends their run to four straight wins. They move to secure at least a No. 2 seed in the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden, which tips off March 9. Villanova is still in the running for the No. 1 seed.
Xavier extends their record to 25-3, 13-3 in the Big East and Villanova falls to 24-4 and 13-2 in the conference. Next, Villanova faces its final road test of the regular season on Saturday with a 2 p.m. tipoff against Marquette at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. The game will air nationally on the Fox network (Fox 29 in Philadelphia).