Instant Replay: No. 3 Villanova 79, No. 15 Xavier 54

Instant Replay: No. 3 Villanova 79, No. 15 Xavier 54

BOX SCORE

VILLANOVA, Pa. — No. 3 Villanova, which trailed by eight early, closed the first half on an 18-4 run and rolled to a 79-54 win over No. 15 Xavier in a showdown at the Pavilion on Tuesday night between two nationally ranked Big East teams.

The Wildcats outscored Xavier 12-5 to open the second half to make it a 30-9 run over 11½ minutes and turn an eight-point deficit into a 13-point lead.

Xavier had won six straight games since losses at Colorado and Baylor.

‘Nova missed 14 of its first 20 shots and trailed by eight points at 24-16 with 6½ minutes to go in the first half before seniors Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins and sophomore Jalen Brunson combined to score 15 of Villanova’s next 18 points.

Xavier missed 11 straight shots late in the first half and missed 21 of 25 over a 20-minute span from five minutes into the first half to five minutes into the second half.

Villanova led by as many as 29 points late in the game.

Turning point
With Xavier holding its eight-point lead and 6½ minutes left before halftime, Villanova ratcheted up the defense and held the Musketeers scoreless for the next 5½ minutes.

Xavier missed 11 straight shots during that span, and by the time it scored again, Villanova had the lead for good.

The Kris and Josh show
Jenkins led Villanova with 20 points and six rebounds and Hart added 20 points, five assists and six boards. Brunson added 11 points and six assists with no turnovers.

Redshirt freshman Donte DiVincenzo registered 10 points, four rebounds and three assists in a career-high 31 minutes off the bench, and Darryl Reynolds shot 5 for 6 for 10 points with three rebounds.

What it means
With the win, Villanova improved to 16-1 overall and 4-1 in the Big East. Xavier fell to 13-3 overall and 3-1 in the Big East.

The win extended Villanova’s winning streak in its on-campus facility to 46 in a row since a 55-52 loss to Providence on Feb. 3, 2013. The 46 consecutive wins ties the program’s longest winning streak in the building, set from 2007 through 2011.

Stat of the day
Xavier made five of its first 10 shots from three and then missed 10 in a row and 21 of 22 the rest of the game.

By the numbers
J.P. Macura (10), Edmond Sumner (11) and Trevon Bluiett (10) reached double figures in scoring for the Musketeers but combined to shoot 9 for 35. … After making six of its first nine shots, Xavier went 11 for 50 the rest of the way. … Villanova opened up 6 for 20 from the field but shot 22 for 32 the rest of the way, including 17 for 25 in the second half. … Villanova now leads the all-time series 23-5.

What’s next?
Villanova travels to New York Saturday for a noon game against St. John’s at Madison Square Garden. The Wildcats’ next home game is next Monday back at the Pavilion against Seton Hall.

Penn State men's hockey ranked No. 1 for first time in program history

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Penn State men's hockey ranked No. 1 for first time in program history

At 16-2-1, Penn State's men's hockey team is ranked first in the nation for the first time in program history.

The Nittany Lions have improved each of the last four years under head coach Guy Gadowsky. 

Their record by year:

      2013-14: 8-26-2
      2014-15: 18-15-4
Last season: 21-13-4
This season: 16-2-1

Penn State received 30 of 50 first-place votes in the USCHO Division I poll. Denver is ranked No. 2, followed by Boston University, Minnesota-Duluth and Massachusetts-Lowell (see USCHO poll).

Penn State was ranked fourth last week before sweeping Michigan State.

Villanova focused on learning from win over Seton Hall, not No. 1 ranking

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Villanova focused on learning from win over Seton Hall, not No. 1 ranking

A few hours before Villanova hosted Seton Hall on Monday night, head coach Jay Wright came home and talked to his wife, Patty.

“You know you’re No. 1?” she said.

Wright didn’t react much to the news, nor did the players on the team when they found out during the pregame meal a little bit later.

“It’s not really that big of a deal this time,” Wright said. “I think we were all much more concerned with Seton Hall.”

Being No. 1 may almost be old news at this point, but thoroughly dominating good teams at the Pavilion never gets stale for the Wildcats, who cruised to a 76-46 demolition of the Pirates on the same day they regained the top spot of the rankings after a week at No. 3 (see Instant Replay).

Senior Kris Jenkins sparked the win with 16 points, shooting 4 for 6 from the three-point line and 4 for 4 from the foul line — numbers he cared far more about than the No. 1 in front of Villanova.

“That’s just a number,” Jenkins said. “We focus on getting better each and every day. We can lose our next game and we won’t be No. 1.” 

Villanova reached the No. 1 spot in the AP poll for the first time in the program’s illustrious history last season, a couple of months before winning the national title on an iconic buzzer-beater from Jenkins.

The Wildcats then spent five weeks at No. 1 this season before a 66-58 loss to Butler on Jan. 4 moved them out of the top spot — only briefly, as it turned out.

“Every time you do something first is exciting,” Wright said. “And then you learn from it. I think we learned a great lesson last year and I think it helped us this year. And we learned a lesson again when we went to Butler. So you keep learning from it, that’s what we really take from it.”

As the Wildcats said last season, the most important thing is finishing the season No. 1. And they certainly showed once again that they have the chops to repeat as national champs — a prospect that Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard called “pretty exciting” even after his team had its brains beaten in.

“That’s a tough team to play,” Willard said. “They’re the No. 1 team in the country for a reason. If you’re not clicking on all cylinders when you come here, that can happen.”

Willard went on to say that “if Josh Hart’s not the National Player of the Year, then there’s something wrong.” But against the Pirates, Hart had a modest 11 points as Villanova showed off its impressive balance with all seven players in Wright’s rotation finishing with at least eight points.

Afterwards, Wright credited his three seniors — Jenkins, Hart and Darryl Reynolds (eight points, nine rebounds) — for helping the team bounce back from a sub-optimal performance in Saturday’s 70-57 win over St. John’s at Madison Square Garden.

“I’m just really fortunate to have three guys who are experienced and have been successful but are really humble,” Wright said. “We looked at the film, told them St. John’s played harder than us, and we took care of it. I think our seniors set the tone.”

Saturday’s win wasn’t the only game at the Garden on Villanova’s mind. The last time the Wildcats played Seton Hall, they suffered a stinging defeat to the Pirates in the title game of the Big East Tournament. 

Jenkins, though, insisted, that rare loss didn’t offer any extra motivation. Neither did the fact that Villanova set a record with its 47th straight victory at the Pavilion. Or that Monday’s win was the program’s 1,700th of all time.

“Numbers are something that is becoming a challenge for us,” Wright admitted. “It’s a great challenge to have. Right now, it doesn’t really do anything for us. But trust me, at the end of the year, we take great pride in that. All it can do is distract us right now. We know we have to answer the questions and you guys do a great job. I usually learn the numbers from you guys. It’s just not gonna do anything for us right now.”

Wright may not always like talking about his team’s absurdly impressive accomplishments. But he certainly loves games like this one as the Wildcats dominated all phases, from start to finish.

Deadly long-range shooting? Tenacious defense? Creating turnovers and scoring off them? Big-time hustle plays and rebounds? Electrifying dunks? Villanova did it all Monday in front of a raucous section of students back from winter break and one spectator named Ben Simmons, who took in the game from a courtside seat and applauded with everyone else.

What’s it like coaching a game like that? Is it ever hard when your No. 1 team is up by 30?

“It’s not difficult at all,” Wright said with a laugh. “It’s enjoyable. Things are going well, so you’re enjoying yourself.”