The Musketeers had been known for the style of play that would make basketball traditionalists proud, the type of bully-ball post-up play that comes with having imposing big men and a strong frontcourt.
They had bullied the Villanova Wildcats for almost all 40 minutes of the game, but couldn’t put them away in regulation. Xavier was held to just one basket over the final 4:41 of play, as Villanova came back and tied it up with an Eric Paschall tip-in with seven seconds remaining in the game.
Xavier tried to prevent overtime, but Collin Gillespie was able to draw a charge. When asked about the call, Xavier head coach Travis Steele wished to not comment.
”I not going to comment on that,” he said. “I will tell you that was a huge, huge call though.”
Villanova turned the ball over and Xavier had another chance to steal it with a half-court heave, but it was wide right and the game went into overtime.
”The bench was yelling at me, ‘offensive glass,’ and I saw Booth drive,” Paschall said of his tip-in play. “I was on the weak side. Most shots go off on the weak side. I was thinking aggressive rebounding and the ball was there--I just tipped it in and that was it.”
In overtime, the cold-shooting ‘Cats finally got themselves going, hitting a series of three-pointers to take the lead and eventually pull away for a 71-67 victory to advance past the Musketeers and into their fifth-straight Big East Tournament championship game.
”Really proud of our guys,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “It’s really gratifying as a coach to see young people under pressure in a really tense environment with a positive attitude--sticking to our core values and grind it out.”
After a Zach Hankins finish to start off overtime, the Wildcats responded with a Phil Booth layup and a Paschall three.
The Wildcats never led in the second half, and once they grabbed it in overtime--they never let go of it.
Xavier went to Hankins again, who promptly responded with another layup. On the following possession, Booth collected his own miss and made the second-chance opportunity. Then, Jermaine Samuels knocked down a three, and the ‘Cats made the necessary plays to pull away and hold on for the win.
”I don’t think they changed anything defensively,” Steele said of Villanova’s late-game defense in regulation and overtime. “They were switching 1-5 on most off-screens and ball screens throughout the game. We tried to get the ball to the rim as much as possible for us to the post. Paul [Scruggs] did a great job driving the ball as well. We just came up a little bit short.”
It was a tough ending for the Musketeers, who had controlled the game by pestering the ‘Cats in the post. They also received a huge performance from Paul Scruggs, who began the game with a perfect 8-for-8 start on the floor. Scruggs was making it from almost anywhere on the court. He ultimately finished with 28 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists.
Whenever Villanova tried to climb back into the game, Xavier would keep it at bay with its own baskets to deflate the Wildcats’ momentum.
With 5:53 remaining in the first half, Booth hit a three to cut into the Xavier lead, making it 22-20. The Musketeers fired back with a quick 7-0 scoring spurt over the next 92 seconds.
Xavier would make it a double-digit game, its highest lead of the game, after a Hankins dunk made it 33-23 with just 2:34 remaining in the first half.
The Wildcats fought back, but the Musketeers would take a 34-28 lead at the half.
Booth led the ‘Cats with 28 points--on 9-of-20 shooting--seven rebounds, and five assists. Samuels finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Paschall had 12 points and five rebounds. Saddiq Bey added 10 points and seven rebounds.
For Xavier--apart from Scruggs’ high-scoring, all-around performance--Hankins had 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting.
The Musketeers drop to 18-15 overall. The Wildcats are now 24-9 overall and will advance to their fifth-straight Big East Tournament championship game. Villanova will have a chance to be the first team to ever three-peat as conference champions in the history of the Big East.