By Andy Mac Williams, 2/25/2019

Xavier relied on feisty disciplined coordinated defensive basketball in taking down defending NCAA Champion Villanova 66-54 at sold-out frenzied Cintas Center Sunday afternoon. The passion was palpable. The decibel level peaked at shrieking rock concert levels. Nova came out playing like Nova leading by 9 20-11 after about 8 minutes. VU stuck threes and shagged offensive rebounds-motivated to avoid their first 3 game losing streak since 2013. X played with emotion and effort, but made mistakes and VU as usual made the opposition pay. X got going though thanks to lock down defense and more patient inside-out focused offense.

The Muskies chopped the Nova lead to 3(30-27) at the half. Villanova won the board battle 18-12,but lived by the three with 6 makes outside the arc.


Shades of the win at PC on February 16th when XU won the second half 49-29!! Xavier just kept working-grinding-trading buckets slowly reeling the Wildcats in-wearing them down. X tied it at 44 on an Elias Harden three w/11:49 left and embarked on a gorgeous 17-0 run holding sniping Villanova scoreless for over 9 minutes.

X made hay inside and outside with patient deliberate extra pass offense. Naji Marshall chipped in 7 points. Paul Scruggs broke out of a 3 game scoring slump with 5 points in the run and 14 on the game plus 6 rebounds-2 assists and no(zero) turnovers.

Defense was the anchor. Nova was limited to forced threes and well guarded twos and X boxed them off the glass. With under 4 to play Xavier led 58-44. VU pressed. X missed some FTs. Nova cut it to 9, but Xavier steadied. Tyrique Jones completed a powerful inside game with thunder dunks and the Muskies cruised to the 66-54 victory.


Elias Harden was HUGE off the bench(career high 26 minutes-8 points-hustling defense and a +19 for the game). Harden was on the floor for the first half comeback from 9 down and again played at winning time in the second half. Naji Marshall played all 40 minutes(17 points-7 rebounds-4 assists-sticky defense switching between Nova Senior stars Booth and Paschal).

Scruggs played his best game in two weeks. PG Quentin Gooden made great decisions and helped lock-up VU guard Colin Gillespie who'd burned X for 18 points in Philadelphia(only 6 points at Cintas).

Ty Jones just oveflowed with emotion and effort. He tweaked in knee in a late second half rugby scrum-went to the bench briefly-then walked immediately to the scorers table insisting on returning to the floor. Tyrique led a player charge into the wild student section at the final horn. Zach Hankins played with extra gusto(10 points-multiple dunks-4 rebounds). He seemed to thrive on the CBS exposure.

X won the paint point battle 28-14 and shot 16-25 around the rim(64%). Villanova made 10 threes, but on 36 attempts for just 28%. Xavier turned the ball over just 3 times in the second half. X sort of beat VU at its own ball control half court game. That seldom happens.


Xavier fleshes out their BE win streak to 4 games and advances to 15-13 overall and 7-8 in the league. Two weeks ago X was dead last in the BIG EAST. Now they are tied for 4th with Seton Hall at 7-8 and Xavier plays 3rd place St Johns(8-7) this Thursday evening in Queens(6:30-FS1).

The Muskies are allowing 61PPG during the streak with a stingy defensive efficiency of 0.92 points/possession.


Xavier has 3 games left before the BIG EAST Tourney at MSG( at St Johns-Thursday, at Butler Tuesday March 5th and home vs St Johns Saturday March 9th(5PM Tip). The games at STJ and Butler will be Quadrant 1 wins if X can pull those off? St Johns at Cintas could be a Quad 1 also.

Chances of making NCAA noise are now realistic IMHO and doable understanding that the schedule is difficult and both St Johns and Butler are competing head to head with Xavier and others for possibly two NCAA at large bids assuming Marquette and Villanova the #1 and #2 BE teams are already in the 68.

X has a good shot at a Top 6 BIG EAST Turney seed and first round bye meaning no Wednesday 3-13 play-in game at MSG and no chance of playing Marquette or Villanova until the Semis Friday 3-15. Things are light years more positive than 16 days ago. Just keep playing defense and sharing the ball and win and the Muskies will be A OK.


There's one game Tuesday-Providence at Butler(7PM-FS1). Wednesday it's DePaul at Georgetown(7PM-CBS SN) with Marquette at Villanova at 9PM(FS1). MU is 12-2 with a game and a half lead over Villanova(11-4). They play on campus at the Pavilion. MU won 66-65 over VU in Milwaukee a couple weeks ago.

Thursday XU at St Johns. Band box Eastern Pit Carnesseca Arena in Queens will be sold-out(5,500).


Marquette(17) Villanova(28) St Johns(48) Butler(49) Creighton(54) Seton Hall(62) Georgetown(73) PC(82) Xavier(84) DePaul(108). Xavier has advanced from 107 to 84 over the 4 game win streak. I'm not sure they counted the Muskie win over Villanova as a Quad 1 "W"?? VU was right on the cusp. Certainly, the road games at St Johns and Butler are Quad 1 material.

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