Saturday, March 11, 2017

Villanova 74, Creighton 60: Wildcats' Tenacious D too much for the Bluejays

                                                              Photo Credit: Geno Green

NEW YORK— In front of a sellout crowd of 19,812 at Madison Square Garden, also known as the mecca of basketball, the top-seeded Villanova Wildcats (31-3) won their second Big East tournament title in three seasons behind stellar defensive play in a 74-60 win over the Creighton Bluejays (25-9).

Villanova’s defense proved to be its offense as it forced Creighton into 17 turnovers and produced 21 points and coach Jay Wright was proud of the team's ability to step up in a championship environment.

"Our ball pressure was not really good against Seton Hall and we were too relaxed," Wright said. "Creighton's teams execute better than most in the country on offense, so we knew if we just let them run their stuff, we would get sliced up. So, pressuring the ball was really important and I think we did a really good job of it."

The Wildcats’ perimeter defense proved to be the difference as they the Bluejays, who shot 13-of-20 (65.0 percent) in the semifinals against the Xavier Musketeers, to 6-for-24 (25 percent).

"We played our best defensive game of the year and it was no problem getting them ready for their offensive execution against Creighton," Wright said. "Great leadership from (Jalen Brunson) and (Josh Hart) was also key to our success."

Creighton's Marcus Foster, who came into the game with a league-high 18.5 points per game, could not get into a flow as he was held to 13 points, on 5-of-13 from the field, to go along with four turnovers.

Big East Most Outstanding Player Josh Hart further validated his league Player of the Year status with a game-high 29 points, to go along with six rebounds. Hart showed a calm demeanor after winning his second MOP.

"Part it of was exhaustion, but we know we have to get a lot better and become even more coachable," Hart said. We are honored and humble to have won this against Creighton."

Creighton and Villanova took each other’s best shot in the first four minutes of the game as each team exchanged baskets, highlighted by Jenkins with the first six points for the Wildcats.

With the game tied at 11 halfway through the first half, Villanova went deep into its bench early with Donte DiVincenzo and Eric Paschall on the floor. The moves helped Hart find more time to create his own shot as he made the next 11 points for Nova and held a 22-17 lead at the 6:21 mark of the first half.

In need of a spark from long range, Creighton’s Cole Huff provided one from the baseline to cut Villanova’s lead to two. However, Villanova showed why it is the premiere team in the conference once more as it went on an 8-0 run over a 2:21 stretch.

Villanova’s defense forced Creighton to settle for looks in the paint as it struggled from long range missing nine of its first 10 attempts and created 10 Creighton turnovers into 11 points as it went into the half with a 36-22 advantage.

The second half saw the Wildcats pick up right where it left off at from the field as their lead increased to 18, while the Bluejays continued to drown with their careless ball handling on offense. Despite Villanova going 6:16 without of a field goal, Creighton could not cut the deficit to single digits as it ran out of gas on its third game in as many nights.

Tournament Notes:

- Hart became the third player in Big East Tournament history to win two Most Outstanding Player awards (2015 and 2017). The other players to win two MOP's were Georgetown's Patrick Ewing (1984-1985) and Louisville's Peyton Siva (2012-2013).

- Villanova's Jalen Brunson and Kris Jenkins, along with Creighton's Marcus Foster, Seton Hall's Angel Delgado and Xavier's Trevon Bluiett were named to the Big East All-Tournament team.

Looking Ahead:

The Wildcats and the Bluejays will await their NCAA Tournament seedings on Selection Sunday. Villanova will likely be the overall top seed in the 68-team field and would likely begin in Buffalo and back at Madison Square Garden, if they advance to the regional semifinal round.

Social Media:

Follow Geno Green on Twitter @TheGenoGreen.