Coming into today’s matchup, the Villanova Wildcats led the Big East standing at 3-0. Villanova’s Big East wins have not come easy; in fact, the squad has had to rally to overcome opponent leads to secure wins. Creighton came into this game looking for a win after a disappointing overtime loss to Marquette to fall to 1-2 in conference play.
Villanova’s struggles this season have been no secret, but now the Wildcats seem to have found their stride and mold themselves into championship form, winning four games in a row. It is clear with the different starting lineup adjustments that Jay Wright is still trying to piece together the best version of this young team. Today’s starting lineup featured Saddiq Bey and Jermaine Samuels along with Collin Gillespie, Phil Booth, and Eric Paschall. Bey is no stranger to the starting five and remains a consistent player for the Wildcats. The addition of Samuels to the starting lineup allowed the team to show a bigger lineup to the undersized Creighton.
The Bluejays are not strangers to taking down the reigning national champions – just last season, the Bluejays beat the Wildcats 89-83 at home. To win this game, Creighton would have had to rely on its sophomore Ty-Shon Alexander to put up big buckets and lead his team to victory. Alexander was on pace to do so with 17 points at the half including going 5/5 from three.
The teams were tied 8-all at the first media timeout. Creighton pushed out to a 14-20 lead. Throughout the first half, it was clear the Wildcats were struggling defensively, and it has felt on the glass as the Wildcats were outrebounded 14-18 and were losing in second-chance points 5-10. The perimeter defense was an issue in the first half as the team gave up 6 threes. Booth and Paschall were quiet the first half combining for 18 points – 9 points each.
At the break, Villanova was down 38-42. The story of the half was “good offense; poor defense.” Both teams’ shot 50% from the field – The Wildcats were 5/13 from behind the arc, and the Bluejays were 5/17.
The Bluejays scored five quick points in the first 90 seconds of the second half to get up nine early. The score was 38-47 before the Wildcats rallied back. Booth and Paschall lead a 10-0 run to take the 48-47 lead with 16:36 left to play. Regarding, Phil Booth, Jay Wright said, “He’s got an incredible humility about him where when you need him, he’s there.” He came alive in the second half scoring 19 of his 28 points, going 4/4 from three.
The Bluejays got the score back to 51-all, but Booth hit two straight threes to open a 13-0 Villanova run. Villanova charged on a 26-6 spurt that created a 64-53 lead with 9 ½ minutes to play. The Bluejays went on two scoring droughts that allowed the Wildcats to pull away. The defensive adjustments made during halftime were vital to the win. After scoring 17 in the first half, Ty-Shon Alexander was limited to two field goals in the entire second half. The transition defense and switching from man to zone defense took away all of the interior play for Creighton. The Wildcats limited the Creighton team to 40 percent shooting and 36 points.
This game is not the first time the defending champions have come back from deficits. They trailed by 13 before beating No.24 St. Johns and by 14 before securing the win over DePaul. This Villanova team remains patient, and mentally tough throughout games. According to Booth, this team is all about playing their game and staying resilient, “[…] doing what we do to fight back and stay aggressive no matter what happens.” Along with this team’s resilience, the development of the teams’ younger players is something Jay Wright and Nova’ fans should be excited about. Jahvon Quinerly, (7 points, 3 rebounds) who has been getting increasing minutes, Jermaine Samuels (13 points; 6 rebounds), and Saddiq Bey (6 points, 6 rebounds) are all developing well. The development of the younger players is what will essential for continuing great conference play and onward into the tournament.
Phil Booth and Eric Paschall combined for 49 points, leading the charge in the second half over the Bluejays. Villanova moves to 13-4 on the season, 4-0 in conference play, and remains the only undefeated team in the Big East. The Wildcats have now won five straight games and continue to trend upward. The Wildcats will face Xavier on January 18th in the Finneran Pavilion.