Before Tuesday night’s game, Xavier head coach Travis Steele remarked that the Musketeers needed to be the tougher team for forty minutes. He got that toughness in the first half. For the last twenty minutes, it turned into a classic Villanova showing.
Early on, the Xavier Musketeers (11-2, 1-1) seemed to be well on their way to their first victory against the Villanova Wildcats (8-4, 1-1) at Finneran Pavillion. Everything was falling for them, even shots not aimed at the basket.
That accidental 3-pointer sums up the first twenty minutes of this one. Xavier couldn’t miss, while Villanova seemed unable to locate the basket. The Musketeers shot 6-9 from beyond the arc in the first half behind 11 Nate Johnson points. Johnson’s 3-pointer with 5:36 to play in the opening frame gave Xavier a 10-point lead, and momentum was squarely in their favor.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats shot just 1-10 from deep en route to an eight-point halftime deficit. They led for only 26 seconds in the first half. Xavier never seemed to run out of shooters, and Travis Steele’s defense made every basket difficult for Villanova.
Just minutes into the second half, the script flipped. Justin Moore knocked down two 3-pointers early in the frame, and Caleb Daniels added one of his own. Suddenly, Villanova had momentum, and the deficit was cut to one with 14:43 remaining.
Forty-one seconds later, an Eric Dixon layup gave the Wildcats their first lead since it was 9-6.
The next eight minutes were a back-and-forth affair with five lead changes. Thanks to a Jack Nunge layup with 7:28 to play, Xavier took the lead back at 51-49. That would be the last lead for the Musketeers.
Justin Moore answered Nunge with a layup of his own just over a minute later, tying the score at 51. Caleb Daniels followed up with a 3-pointer, his second of the half, to put Villanova ahead 54-51. Then, it was Collin Gillespie’s turn. The Preseason Big East Player of the Year knocked down a 24-footer with Colby Jones in his face to give the Wildcats a six-point lead, their largest of the night.
Dwon Odom and Jerome Hunter hit layups to pull Xavier back within two, but Jay Wright’s defense locked in after that to preserve the lead. Over the final four minutes, Villanova held Xavier to 1-8 shooting. The Wildcats ended the game on a 14-3 run, flipping a first half ten-point deficit into a 71-58 victory.
After allowing six made 3-pointers in the first half, Villanova held Xavier to 0-14 from deep in the second. Their stifling perimeter defense locked down the Musketeers and limited them to just 20 points over the final twenty minutes.
Jay Wright’s team had struggled to score in recent games, especially in the paint. Inside the arc, Villanova shot 23-67 in their two-game skid against Baylor and Creighton. That changed Tuesday night, with the Wildcats shooting 21-34 from that range and hitting 15 of 18 layups. Starting center Eric Dixon tied a career high with 15 points, and Villanova’s guards were able to slash to the basket in the second half. Gillespie, Moore, and Daniels combined to shoot 6-9 from 2-point range in the final frame.
The win ended a seven-game winning streak for Xavier. The Musketeers dropped their second game of the season and will return to action next Tuesday against UConn.
Villanova notched their eighth win on the season and their second against a ranked opponent. Jay Wright and the Wildcats renew their intra-city rivalry against Temple next Wednesday.