In a season that’s been filled with big, exciting moments for the Xavier Musketeers, Wednesday night’s 90-83 win over No. 1 Villanova at the Cintas Center before a record crowd of 10,727 raised the stakes.
Not only was the win itself an incredibly entertaining and enjoyable moment for the Cintas faithful, but now the Musketeers have set themselves up for even bigger opportunities over the next few weeks.
After going 0-6 against Villanova over the last two years in the Big East, Wednesday night’s convincing win over the Wildcats while they were ranked No. 1 in the country was like beating Dayton by 29 in the finals of the Advocare Invitational with Chris Mack trolling the flyers in a Big East pullover, multiplied by 50. The atmosphere in the Cintas Center was like Edmond Sumner dunking all over Octavius Ellis in the Crosstown Shootout, multiplied by 10.
Xavier played a strong first half and was able to head into the locker rooms with a 40-37 lead. Then, it came back out in the second half and put a 50-ball on the Wildcats’ defense, which ranks top five in the country according to KenPom. The Musketeers shot 50 percent from the field for the game, including 7-of-18 (38.9%) from three. They had 24 assists on 30 field goals. They moved the ball so fast and came at Villanova with so many weapons that Jay Wright’s squad looked frustrated and even started bickering at points during the second half.
Getting off to a quick start was a big key for Xavier coming into Wednesday night. When Myles Davis buried his first three of the game with 16:57 to play in the first half to put the Musketeers up 9-7, the Cintas Center erupted as if he had just buried a buzzer beating game-winner. The game continued on like that. When JP Macura went on a personal 7-0 run midway through the half to put the Musketeers up 23-21, the roof nearly came off the arena.
The game lived up to the hype with both teams playing at a high level.
Kris Jenkins was outstanding for Villanova in the first half, scoring 19 of his game-high 22 before intermission. He fouled out after only playing a few minutes in the second half.
For Xavier, it was a total team effort with six players scoring in double figures for the second time this season (the first was against NKU). Macura and Edmond Sumner led the way with 19 points each. Davis added 16 points, Jalen Reynolds had 11, and Trevon Bluiett and James Farr both added 10.
Every player that saw the floor for XU had a positive impact on the win:
- In addition to the first half scoring outburst to get the offense going early, Macura also got it done on the defensive end. He finished with three steals, including the backbreaking play of the game when he ripped a rebound away from Kris Jenkins and dished to Kaiser Gates, who then drew Jenkins’ fifth and final foul with 8:47 to play.
- Sumner was a matchup problem that really helped swing the game in Xavier’s favor. He abused defenders off the bounce on his way into the lane and collapsed Villanova’s defense countless times, making great reads on when to score and when to find his open teammates. He dished out a career-high nine assists, and also drew a lot of fouls on the Wildcats, finishing 11-of-13 from the free throw line.
- Davis was the man with the big answers from three all night. He finished 4-of-9 from beyond the arc, knocking down two in each half. His two threes in the second half both came early, and helped keep the Musketeers ahead while the Wildcats were making shots. His final three put X up 48-43. He also dished out six assists.
- Reynolds played solid in the post with 11 points (4-5 FG) and four rebounds. He gave the Musketeers some momentum with a pair of exciting dunks that got the crowd roaring. The first slam came on a great assist from Davis with 5:13 to play in the first half, and some extra gesturing really got the student section going. The second was a vicious posterization of Phil Booth with 6:25 to play in the second half to put the Musketeers up 10, 73-63.
- Farr was solid as well, finishing 5-of-7 from the floor. He was a matchup problem for the Wildcats on the offensive glass, as all four of his rebounds were of the offensive variety. He also threw down a two-handed, and-one slam off an assist from Davis with 53.6 seconds left in the first half to put X up 38-35, drawing one of the bigger reactions of the night from the crowd.
- Bluiett was a little quiet offensively, only taking seven shots, but he was really solid at both ends. He had seven rebounds and three assists with only one turnover, and four of those rebounds came in the closing minutes when the Musketeers were trying to put the game away with stops.
- Kaiser Gates showed that he continues to understand how to play his role perfectly. His versatility on defense was huge, and he was super active on the glass, finishing with a career-high seven rebounds. He was 1-for-1 from the field, but was aggressive on the few occasions he needed to be and got to the free throw line (where he struggled, 3-7 FT). In addition to the play that fouled Jenkins out, his effort on the glass led to a big and-one tip-in with 14:46 to play that put X up 57-50, and was part of a 9-0 run that let XU pull away for good.
- Remy Abell and Larry Austin combined to play 23 minutes of really solid defense, helping hold two of Villanova’s top players, Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono, to 7-for-24 combined shooting on the night. It’s not easy to lock in and focus for 16 minutes of action when you only take one shot like Abell did, but unselfish attitudes like that are why this team just knocked off the No. 1 team in the country.
The win added the final missing piece to the Musketeers’ tournament resume - proof they can beat an elite opponent. While they have plenty of top 50 wins (8 Kenpom, 6 RPI), they lacked any wins over current top 15 teams coming into this game. Now, everything is in play for this XU team, including a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
The trip to Madison Square Garden in two weeks just became even more exciting for Xavier fans.