You got the sense that one day, the Villanova Wildcats’ run at the top of the Big East would come crashing down. To this particular degree this season? I’m not sure many saw it.
Sunday’s 66-54 loss to the Xavier Musketeers only hammered that point home. Villanova is indeed mortal, and their chances of winning the Big East this season are probably running out and running out quickly.
The first half of this game was pretty evenly matched. Villanova jumped out to a 20-11 lead after the 7:40 mark, but Xavier was able to draw closer and closer. The halftime break came and went and ‘Nova held a three point edge, 30-27 to be exact, after the first 20 minutes.
The second half saw ‘Nova get out to a five-point lead at the 16:33 mark. From there, however, things began to come undone. The lead shrunk down to one after a Quentin Goodin 3-pointer, but Saddiq Bey answered with a dunk to prop the deficit back up to three. Afterwards, Xavier began to romp.
A 3-pointer by Elias Harden was followed by a layup by Naji Marshall. Marshall then shot and sunk a 3-pointer, which was followed up by a Paul Scruggs triple. Naji again struck for a jumper and Scruggs knocked down a pair of free throws. Goodin cruised back in for a layup, and just like that, over the course of five minutes and change, Xavier held a 14 point lead.
It was particularly shocking to watch unfold not just because of how much damage was done but because this particular opponent in Xavier has not really showed the strengths of Musketeer teams in the past. But of course, when you get hot, you can get really hot. And Xavier was hotter than the sun in this instance.
Xavier maintained this wide lead throughout, as Villanova got the deficit down to merely nine points with 1:06 remaining. By that point, the game was well in hand, and the Musketeer MOV wound up being 12 by day’s end.
Four Xavier players got into double figures in this conquest. Marshall led with 17 points, Scruggs put up 14, Goodin had 11 and Zach Hankins dropped 10. Harden scored eight points and Tyrique Jones rounded things out with six. Jones led with eight rebounds on the day, with Marshall trailing with seven and Scruggs with six. Marshall and Goodin led with four assists each.
For ‘Nova meanwhile, it was Eric Paschall who led the way in the points department, as he had 17 in the loss. Phil Booth scored 14 points and Bey had 10. No other players got into double figures, and the leader after those three was Collin Gillespie, who scored just six points on the day. Jahvon Quinerly had five points, while Joe Cremo scored two, the bucket that ended the aforementioned lengthy run the Musketeers went on. They had three players (Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, Brandon Slater, Jermaine Samuels) who logged minutes and scored no points, although Slater had just one minute of action, so we won’t hold that against him.
Villanova, who’s now lost three in a row, will have to pick up the pieces quickly. This is the team’s first three-game losing streak since the 2012-13 season, in which they fell thrice to the Syracuse Orange, Pittsburgh Panthers and Providence Friars sequentially. Looming in the distance are the Marquette Golden Eagles, who have the ability to strike with a knockout blow and all but seal up the Big East regular season championship in their matchup with the ‘Cats this Wednesday. The game of course will be played in Philly, so ‘Nova will have to do all they can to try and stave off MU.
Xavier, meanwhile, has now won four in a row and are just one game under .500 in Big East play. They round out the season with two matchups against the St. John’s Red Storm and a game against the Butler Bulldogs. Could we very well see them run the table and rise up? I mean hey, anything’s possible, right?