The Wildcats’ trio of seniors won their final home game of their careers Saturday afternoon at The Pavilion with a 79-63 victory over the 23rd-ranked Creighton Bluejays.
Although Villanova (14-3 Big East, 27-3 overall) continued to struggle with their outside shooting, converting just 4 of 19 attempts (21.1%) from beyond the arc, they were able to make up for it by out-rebounding Creighton (9-7, 22-7) 33-28 and regularly drawing fouls on drives to the basket resulting in 22 free throw attempts, 16 more than the Bluejays, making 17 of them (77.3%).
Redshirt-sophomore forward Eric Paschall, who transferred to the Main Line from Fordham after his freshman year, had a breakout game for the ‘Cats as he scored a team and career-high 19 points, adding 6 rebounds and 2 assists. With injured big man Darryl Reynolds missing his 5th straight game, Villanova could certainly use more performances similar to this one from Paschall moving forward. It is worth noting that head coach Jay Wright was quoted on Saturday saying Reynolds “should be ready for the start of the Big East Tournament” beginning on March 8th.
Senior Josh Hart scored 16 points and hauled in 7 rebounds, while fellow senior Kris Jenkins, despite not quite finding his outside stroke just yet, added 15 points. The perpetually underrated yet extremely valuable redshirt-sophomore Mikal Bridges filled the stat sheet, scoring 11 points while grabbing 8 boards, forcing 5 steals and throwing in an assist just for good measure.
With the victory, the highly accomplished Wildcat seniors now own a national title, four Big East regular-season crowns, a 127-13 overall record and a perfect 16-0 mark in the Big 5. Also, in the four years the winningest class in school history has spent on the Main Line, Villanova has never lost back-to-back games.
Junior guard Marcus Foster scored 25 points and sophomore Khyri Thomas had 17 for Creighton, which has lost six of ten after an 18-1 start to the season.
The game was tied at 33 at halftime and the two teams traded baskets over the first 6 1/2 minutes after the break, resulting in seven lead changes during that span.
Kris Jenkins had missed his first five 3-point attempts before draining one from the left corner after an assist from Jalen Brunson with 11:12 left in the game to give the ‘Cats a 51-47 lead. The huge bucket not only gave the home team a little breathing room but it seemed to boost their confidence as well.
After a Josh Hart put-back dunk capped an 8-2 Villanova run spanning 2 1/2 minutes, Marcus Foster kept Creighton’s hopes alive with a three to make it a seven point game, 59-52, with 8:25 remaining.
Just over two minutes later, Eric Paschall came up big yet again, managing an acrobatic tip-in following a missed three by Hart and the Wildcat lead stretched to eleven, 65-54 with 6:19 left in the game.
The final nail in Creighton’s coffin resulted from a Mikal Bridges steal, and after diving for the loose ball and gaining possession, the red-shirt sophomore was able to outlet a pass to Josh Hart who threw down a thunderous breakaway dunk to put the game out of reach for good.
The Wildcats have a week off before facing Georgetown at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. on March 4th in their regular season finale that has no implication for the ‘Cats in the league standings. ‘Nova is guaranteed the top seed in the Big East Tournament and, barring a first-round exit there, likely a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament as well.