Villanova pushes past Creighton despite exhaustion before off week

Villanova pushes past Creighton despite exhaustion before off week

BOX SCORE

VILLANOVA, PA. – Jay Wright finally admitted what we could all see.

The Wildcats are gassed.

No. 2 Villanova beat No. 23 Creighton, 79-63, Saturday at the Pavilion to clinch the Big East Conference regular-season title outright (see Instant Replay).

The Wildcats are 27-3 and 14-3 in the conference, but the last couple weeks their lack of depth has shown.

With Omari Spellman ruled ineligible before the season by the NCAA, Phil Booth out since November with lingering knee pain and Darryl Reynolds out the last five games with a rib injury, Wright has essentially been limited to five starters, freshman Dante DiVincenzo off the bench and a few minutes a night from freshman Dylan Painter.

It's taken a significant toll on the six guys in the rotation. 

Big late leads have dwindled or, in the case of Wednesday’s game against Butler, disappeared. Three-pointers have front-rimmed. Defensive assignments have been missed.

Through it all, Wright refused to admit fatigue was an issue.

Now, with the Wildcats securely the top seed in next month’s conference tournament, Wright is being honest about his team.

They’re exhausted.

“I know you guys have asked a lot, 'Do I think we’re getting worn down with seven guys, 6 1/2 guys,' and I said I don’t think so, I think we can do it,” Wright said Saturday after the Senior Day win over Creighton.

“I gotta answer your question, but it just doesn’t do us any good saying we’re worn out. It’s not an excuse. Other teams have things to deal with. I get we weren’t pretty, we haven’t been pretty, today wasn’t pretty. But I think it just speaks to the leadership of these seniors and I think it speaks to the character of these seniors (that they got through it).

“Are they tired? Yeah. Are they worn down some? Yeah. But it doesn’t matter. Other teams got stuff too. It’s not the reason you lose. It can’t be the reason you lose. Maybe you were tired and you didn’t concentrate or we didn’t defend or we didn’t rebound. That’s what happened and that’s the way we look at it.

“I wasn’t trying to BS you, I was just saying that whether you’re tired or not doesn’t matter, you’ve got to get it done, and we got it done. I’m so proud of them and it’s senior leadership. It’s talented players and senior leadership.”

Villanova now has a week off before an essentially meaningless game next Saturday at Georgetown.

It’ll be the Wildcats’ first extended break since the season began.

“They haven’t had an off week because they played Virginia (two weeks ago in a non-conference game), and now they get it and a chance to get their legs back,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said.

“It’s a long season and when you don’t really have a chance to catch your breath, especially because he’s riding six or seven guys pretty hard right now? I’m sure this week off will do them some good.”

Sophomore transfer Eric Paschall had a career day Saturday, with 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting to go with six rebounds. Josh Hart added 16 points and eight boards, Kris Jenkins overcame another off shooting night from three (1 for 7) to record 15 points, four boards and three assists, and Mikal Bridges had 11 points and eight rebounds. DiVincenzo and Jalen Brunson each scored nine points. 

The next meaningful game Villanova plays will be March 9 in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament in New York.

Now it’s time to rest. And heal.

“It’s going to be good for us,” Jenkins said. “We get a couple days off. We’ll still watch film, still learn, still get better, but physically we need a couple days to regroup and get ready for Georgetown and then the Big East tournament.

“Georgetown is first, but we really do need this break.”

On Saturday, Villanova built an 11-point lead, gave it all away, fell behind, traded off seven second-half lead changes, then went on a 16-4 run midway through the second half to finally put away the Bluejays.

With the threes not falling, the Wildcats focused on attacking the rim and scoring in the post in the second half.

Jenkins in particular had an unusual game. He stopped shooting treys and made 5 of 8 shots from inside the arc. That’s the second-most two-pointers he’s ever made and the most he’s ever attempted.

“Just playing off my teammates and adjusting to how teams play me,” said Jenkins, shooting just 30 percent from three the last 10 games.

“They really take away threes and try not to let me get any clean catches so always being aggressive and trying to make the right play.”

For a tired team, backing off the threes was huge.

Villanova outscored Creighton 36-18 over the last 14 minutes after Creighton took its biggest lead – two points at 43-41.

Now comes rest.

“It’s big for these guys,” Wright said. “In my mind, we just had to get to today. We just gotta get through it without getting somebody else hurt and without just being dead.

“Because we’re going to get time off. We’re going to take Sunday off, we’re going to have a light day Monday, and then we’re going to take Tuesday off, because these guys really need the rest. So this is perfect timing for us.”

Instant Replay: Villanova topples Creighton, clinches Big East title outright

Instant Replay: Villanova topples Creighton, clinches Big East title outright

BOX SCORE

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- Sophomore transfer Eric Paschall scored a team-high 19 points -- including five dunks -- and Kris Jenkins added 15, as No. 2 Villanova pulled away late to beat No. 23 Creighton, 79-63, and clinch the 2017 Big East Conference regular-season title outright.

Paschall, starting during Darryll Reynolds’ injury absence, shot 8 for 12 from the field and added six rebounds.

Creighton’s last lead was 45-43 six minutes into the second half, but a Paschall slam and Jenkins’ first three after five misses sparked a 16-4 run that gave the Wildcats a 59-49 lead with 8½ minutes left. Creighton got no closer than seven the rest of the way.

Paschall’s career high is a 31-point game for Fordham against NYIT on Nov. 14, 2014.

Villanova again struggled from three-point range but had tremendous success attacking the basket, especially in the second half of the final game at the Pavilion for two years.

The Wildcats shot just 17 percent from three (3 for 18) but 69 percent from two (24 for 35) and repeatedly got to the foul line in the second half, when they were 14 for 18.

Jenkins again struggled from three (1 for 7) yet still finished with 15 points to go with four rebounds and three assists.

Josh Hart shot 7 for 11 for 16 points and added seven rebounds and three assists.

Villanova opened a streaky first half by taking a 7-0 lead, but Creighton hit four straight threes in less than two minutes and led by three. Villanova then went on a 17-2 run and led by as many as 10 points before Creighton finished the half on a 13-3 run to tie the game at 33.

There were seven lead changes in the first seven minutes of the second half, but Villanova finally pulled away and outscored Creighton 36-18 over the last 14 minutes.

Mikal Bridges added 11 points and eight rebounds for Villanova, while Jalen Brunson had nine points and three assists.

Freshman Dante DiVincenzo came off the bench to contribute nine points and four rebounds for Villanova.

What it means
Villanova improved to 27-3 overall and 14-3 in the Big East, clinching the conference title outright. Entering play Saturday, only Villanova or Butler was in position to win the conference title, with Villanova holding a magic number of one.

Villanova, which lost to Butler on Wednesday, has now won 12 straight games immediately following losses (15 if you carry over to the next year).

The Wildcats last lost consecutive games at the end of the 2012-2013 season, when they fell to Louisville in the Big East quarterfinals and to North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Creighton fell to 22-7 overall and 9-7 in the Big East. The Bluejays are 4-6 since an 18-1 start.

Stat of the day
Marcus Foster had 25 points and eight assists, becoming the first player with 25 points and five assists against Villanova since Ben Hansbrough of Notre Dame, who had 30 points and 10 rebounds (and five steals) in a 93-72 win over Villanova on Feb. 28, 2011, at the Joyce Center in South Bend, Indiana.

Turning point 
Villanova led by one at 48-47 when Jenkins finally buried a three for a four-point lead.

Moving out
This was Villanova’s last game at the Pavilion for about 20 months. Villanova will play most of its home games at the Wells Fargo Center next year while renovations are made to the Pavilion.

Villanova is 293-62 all-time at the Pavilion, which opened in 1985. That includes a 131-12 mark since the start of the 2004-2005 season.

By the numbers
Khyri Thomas scored 17 points for the Bluejays. … Creighton was 7 for 14 from three in the first half but 4 for 13 in the second half. … Villanova has won six straight against Creighton since a 101-80 loss in February 2014 when Doug McDermott scored 39. … Reynolds, Villanova’s second-leading rebounder at 5.5 per game, sat out a fifth straight game with a rib injury.  

What's next
Villanova has a week off before facing Georgetown at the Verizon Center in Washington at noon next Saturday. Georgetown is 14-15 overall and 5-11 in the Big East.

No. 2 Villanova's run at the Pavilion ends at 48 with loss to No. 22 Butler

No. 2 Villanova's run at the Pavilion ends at 48 with loss to No. 22 Butler

BOX SCORE

VILLANOVA, Pa. — It started with 9:37 left in the game with a foul shot by Kelan Martin, and it ended with 4:18 left with a three-pointer by Martin.

In between, nothing went right for Villanova.

It was a 5½-minute nightmare.

No. 22 Butler ran off 18 straight points against No. 2 Villanova on Wednesday, turning a seven-point deficit into an 11-point lead, and then hung on for a 74-66 win over the Wildcats, ‘Nova’s first loss on campus in more than four years (see Instant Replay).

Villanova has lost three games this year, two of them to Butler.

“You have to give them credit,” Villanova sophomore Jalen Brunson said. “They were just hitting every shot. As a team, we just didn’t really lock in defensively. All credit to them for what they were able to do offensively.”

Villanova led 49-42 with just over 9½ minutes left, but during that 5½-minute stretch, Butler made 7 of 11 shots — including 4 of 7 threes — to take a 60-52 lead.

Villanova went 6½ minutes without scoring. The Wildcats missed six straight shots and committed two turnovers during that 18-0 run.

“Nothing really changed,” Butler junior forward Martin said. “We just stuck together.

“We knew we might get punched in the mouth today, it happens on the road, especially with a good team. We responded well and stuck with it and went on a run and just kept grinding it out, possession by possession.”

The loss was the first ever on campus for Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and the other Villanova seniors. The Wildcats had won 48 straight games at the Pavilion since a 2013 loss to Providence. That was Ryan Arcidiacono's freshman year.

Villanova dropped to 26-3 overall and 13-3 in the Big East, and Butler — which had never won at Villanova — improved to 22-6 and 11-5.

One more Villanova win or Butler loss will still give Villanova the outright Big East Conference title and No. 1 seed in next month’s conference tournament in New York. 

Creighton lost Wednesday night to Providence, leaving Butler and Villanova the only schools that can win the Big East regular-season title. 

“We’ve got to have better attention to detail, and it starts with me,” Hart said. “On the defensive end, we got exposed and it started with me and that’s something that we’ve got to have better attention to detail from the seniors and [have it] trickle down.”

Villanova got the lead down to six — with the ball — with three minutes left and got as close as five during a wild last couple minutes, but Butler made its last eight foul shots to secure the win.

“It seemed like the last couple minutes took an hour,” Martin said.

Brunson shot 9 for 13 for 24 points, but the rest of the Wildcats were a combined 16 for 44.

Hart scored 18, but Jenkins shot 1 for 8 and 1 for 5 from three, Mikal Bridges had just three points and Donte DiVincenzo just six.

“They just played better than us in every phase,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “We just have to give them credit. Sometimes you come into a game, and the other team plays better. You try everything and our guys competed to the end, I’m proud of them for that, but we just ran into a team that played better than us tonight in every phase.”

Butler led 8-0 early, but Villanova outscored the Bulldogs 44-28 over the next 22½ minutes and took its biggest lead at 44-36 seven minutes into the second half.

But Butler — down eight against the No. 2 team in the country in a gym where the Wildcats hadn’t lost in four years — kept battling.

“I thought our guys played pretty loose and free and were able to make some open looks against their pressure,” Butler coach Chris Holtmann said. “They’re 15th in the country in defensive efficiency for a reason, but our guys just got into a rhythm and made some open shots.”

Martin had 22 points and eight rebounds for Butler on 7 for 11 shooting. Kamar Baldwin added 15 points before fouling out, and Avery Woodson scored 13.

Butler shot 51 percent and 40 percent from three. Villanova shot just 44 percent and 41 percent in the second half and made just 6 of 24 from the arc — 25 percent.

“Their physicality, we just didn’t handle it well,” Wright said. “We turned it over [and] couldn’t get any assists (eight on 25 baskets).

“They just do a great job of playing every possession. They get down, they don’t do anything different. They just keep grinding, grinding, and try to do the same thing. When they got down, they didn’t crack at all. They just kept executing.

“We didn’t crack either, but we just couldn’t get buckets. We didn’t execute well and a lot of it was their defense. They were just a better team than us tonight. We made more mistakes than they did.”