VILLANOVA, PA. 12/30/2019 – The Villanova Wildcats came off their holiday break and a win over Kansas. The Big East opening game awaited them. The Cats were ready and won the curtain raiser 68 – 62 over the Xavier Musketeers at the Finn. The Wildcats led most of the way. They could not shake Xavier, but never let them get ahead and prevailed.
“That is what the Big East is going to be like every night,” said Villanova Coach Jay Wright. “It’s going to be a grinder with so many good teams in this league.”
The Musketeers were within striking distance at 55 – 49 with just over six and a half minutes remaining. The Wildcats struck back to lengthen the lead behind 2 free throws from Samuels and a huge three-pointer by Collin Gillespie with just over four and a half on the clock open a double digit lead. The experienced Wildcats showed the way.
“Having a veteran like Collin and a veteran like Jermaine, they made smart plays down the stretch and that was the difference,” said Wright. “When it got tight down the stretch, these two were great.”
“Me and Jermaine we’ve been in tight games and Big East battles before, and we’ve watched it a lot,” Gillespie said about their experience factor. “We know what it takes and what it is, and now have to help the younger guys come along with us.”
Early in the game Nova was able to get to the basket. That keyed a 19 – 2 run that opened a 21 – 8 lead midway through the opening half. Over the first 20 minutes Villanova took 36 shots from the field, 25 came from inside the arc. Xavier tried to get the ball inside, but could not finish early. They found the basket in the last ten minutes and trailed 32 – 25 at intermission.
In the second half the teams settled into their games with Xavier playing at the rim and Villanova showing an inside – outside combination. For the game the Wildcats took 25 from distance making 7. Overall the Cats shot 25 of 62. The Wildcats had more ways to score on offense.
“Another good thing we did was our balance,” Wright said. “In the second half we did a better job of mixing it up. These are things we are going to learn as a team and we will also learn how people are going to defend us.”
Xavier got the ball inside and won the points in the points in the paint battle 46 – 28.
“It was a challenge to keep in front of them, but I think we did a great job,” said Samuels. “Now, we need to get better at that.”
Gillespie led the Wildcats with 24 points and handing out 5 assists. Samuels added 14 points and a team-high 8 rebounds. Freshman Justin Moore scored 13 points. Villanova had 15 assists on their 25 made baskets.
Tyrique Jones led Xavier (11 – 3, 0 – 1) posting his 8th double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Naji Marshall scored a game-high 19 points, and Paul Scruggs had 12.
Villanova improves to 10 – 2 on the season and face a tough road trip to open the New Year playing at Marquette and Creighton. It is never easy in the Big East.
Written By: Glenn Papazian