Big East

Jermaine Samuels scores 29 points as Villanova snaps losing streak with win over No. 10 Marquette

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USA Today Images/Eric Hartline

Jermaine Samuels scores 29 points as Villanova snaps losing streak with win over No. 10 Marquette

VILLANOVA — Jermaine Samuels' point production mirrored Villanova's win total over the last three games: a big 0.

Samuels morphed from scoreless to sensational to deny No. 10 Marquette a piece of the Big East crown Wednesday night. He hit five 3-pointers and scored a career-high 29 points as defending national champion Villanova snapped a three-game losing streak with a 67-61 win over the Golden Eagles.

Saddiq Bey hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 2:31 left to help the Wildcats (21-8, 12-4 Big East) keep their hopes alive for a conference title with a needed win in their final game this season at their on-campus arena. Villanova won its first 10 Big East games and appeared headed to a No. 1 seed in the league tournament next month until it hit the skids on the road -- losses to St. John's, Georgetown and Xavier that opened the door for Marquette.

The Golden Eagles (23-5, 12-3) pounced and would have secured both a share of the Big East title and the top seed in the conference tournament with a victory against `Nova.

But who would have counted on Samuels to spoil Marquette's run?

Villanova has tried a maze of options throughout an uneven season to find a reliable third scorer after the 1-2 threat of Phil Booth and Eric Paschall. Booth, who averages 19.6 points, scored 17 and Paschall snapped a streak of 23 straight games in double figures with four points Wednesday. Paschall's off night left the offense open for another option -- and Samuels delivered.

"We've been trying to teach him what kind of decisions to make when they don't guard you," Villanova coach Jay Wright said.

The decision was clear, shoot!

Samuels had averaged only 4.1 points per game this season -- and that included a 15-point game with three 3-pointers in a win against Temple in early December. The 6-foot-7, 220-pound sophomore forward hit only seven more 3s during that span and was somehow scoreless in each of his last three games. He missed his only two field goal tries (both 3s) and did not attempt a free throw during Villanova's losing streak.

"I just want to be aggressive and make plays," Samuels said.

Left open against the Golden Eagles, Samuels hit two 3s in a 15-point first half and shot 10 of 19 overall from the floor.

"I wish we weren't the only team he hit 3s against," Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said. "They put you in very tough positions because of their ability to shoot from the other positions."

Samuels buried a tying 3 in the second half that made it 48-all and converted a three-point play that made it 51-all.

The reason for all the ties? Markus Howard, who scored 25 points, reached 1,000 points in his career and proved again why he's the top Big East player of the year candidate. Howard nailed a pair of go-ahead 3s in the second half and scored 13 of Marquette's first 23 points in the period.

Howard was whistled for his fourth foul at 9:28 in the second half and went to the bench, slowing Marquette's roll.

"Getting stops and rebounding, that's what changes the game," Booth said.

With Howard out, the five-point favorite Wildcats did just enough to stay in the Big East race. Bey made the decisive 3 for a 61-60 lead and Booth, the two-time national champ, hit a pair of free throws with 1:30 left to keep it a three-point game. Samuels sealed it with two from the line with 11.1 seconds left that had fans going wild on senior night.

"This was March-level intensity," Wojciechowski said. "It was a heck of a college basketball game. Villanova deserved to win. They made more plays when it counted the most."

Big picture 
Marquette beat Villanova 66-65 at home this month but has not defeated the Wildcats in consecutive games since sweeping the season series in 2011-12.

With two regular-season games remaining, Villanova needs Marquette to drop at least one of its final three to have a shot at the Big East title.

Skid row 
The Wildcats, who fell out of the Top 25 this week, were on their first three-game losing streak since the 2012-13 season.

Up next 
Marquette plays next Wednesday at home against Creighton.

Villanova hosts Butler on Saturday at Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center.

Villanova makes it look easy at MSG

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USA Today Images

Villanova makes it look easy at MSG

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- Phil Booth insisted he was so focused on defense and finding open teammates that he never glanced at the scoreboard.

"I didn't even notice the score was 19-0," he said.

Villanova was rolling, and if a game can be over in the opening 5 minutes, this was the one.

The second-ranked Villanova scored the first 19 points and cruised toward its fourth straight trip in the Big East Tournament championship game in an 87-68 win over Butler on Friday night.

About 30 minutes after top-seeded Xavier was upset by Providence in overtime, the Wildcats (29-4) hit the court and showed how a favorite should play in a tournament semifinal.

Mikal Bridges hit a 3-pointer five seconds into the game and the Wildcats used near-perfect execution on a 16-0 run before Butler coach LaVall Jordan finally called a timeout at the 15:37 mark. He could have waved a white flag to signal for the TO.

Omari Spellman buried a 3 to make it 19-0 and the Wildcats proved why the Big East tournament title always goes through the Main Line and straight to Madison Square Garden. Butler finally scored and heard some mock cheers for the jumper.

"Spot a team like that 16, 19 points, it's going to be really, really tough to dig out," Jordan said.

The Bulldogs failed to find an offensive excavator.

Hey, at least the Bulldogs (20-13) were only down 17 after their first bucket.

Butler called a 30-second timeout with 11:35 left in the second half and trailed by 25 points. Yes, this was a tournament semifinal game.

The Wildcats hit 10 of their first 12 shots that made for an anticlimactic final 35 minutes at the Garden. Providence had rallied from a 17-point second-half deficit and stunned top-seeded and No. 3 Xavier 75-72 in the first conference semifinal that had MSG rocking.

This seemed like a tune-up for a coronation.

Bridges had 18, Big East player of the year Jalen Brunson scored 17 points and Spellman had 12 points and 12 rebounds.

Under coach Jay Wright, Villanova won the tournament in 2015 and 2017 and lost to Seton Hall in 2016. The four straight Big East title games are one shy of Syracuse's record five straight from 1986-1990.

"I think we feel like we're a new team rather than a team that's stale at the end of the year," Wright said.

The Wildcats did split two games against Providence but the Friars are coming off overtime games on consecutive nights and will be a heavy underdog.

Villanova vs. Xavier -- the No. 2 and 3 teams in the AP Top 25 -- had been an anticipated final. The Wildcats lost the outright regular-season title even though it beat the Musketeers twice.

The sixth-seeded Bulldogs stunned third-seeded Seton Hall 75-74 for its first career Big East Tournament victory and a win over the Wildcats on Dec. 30 made it seem like this should have been competitive.

Instead, Kelan Martin, who averaged 21.1 points, scored just four for the Bulldogs in the first half. He finished with 12.

"They had a great game plan for me. Sometimes, you just can't beat it," Martin said.

The Wildcats improved to 14-0 when holding opponents under 70 points.

"That was one of our best defensive performances," Wright said.

The Wildcats hit six 3s, including Booth's at the buzzer, to send them into the break ahead 44-25. Told Villanova could put probably four 3-point shooters on the court, Jordan cracked, "seemed like six."

Big picture
Butler: The Bulldogs are still in good shape for an NCAA Tournament bid and should be in the mix for No. 8 or No. 9 seed. Butler has lost three of four games.

"We'll be fine," Martin said. "We've got something to play for."

Villanova: The Wildcats have won six of seven games and likely clinched a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats have won 10 of 11 Big East Tournament games.

Up next
Butler: Butler waits to find out its NCAA Tournament fate

Villanova: The Wildcats beat the Friars 89-69 on Jan. 23 and lost at Providence 76-71 on Feb. 14.

Villanova duo brings home hardware

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AP Images

Villanova duo brings home hardware

No. 2 Villanova doesn’t tip off in the Big East Tournament until Thursday. However, that didn’t stop the Wildcats from proving how dominant they are in the conference a day early.

Junior guard Jalen Brunson was named Big East Player of the Year and forward Omari Spellman was selected as Big East Freshman of the Year on Wednesday.

Brunson has averaged 19.0 points on 52.8 percent shooting from the field and 40.5 percent three-point shooting this season. Additionally, he has put up 4.8 assists and 3.0 rebounds per contest to lead the Wildcats to a 14-4 Big East record. Brunson, who was also tabbed as one of 10 semifinalists for the Naismith Player of the Year honor, is now the third Villanova player to win the conference’s POY award in the past four seasons (Josh Hart in 2016-17 and Ryan Arcidiacono a co-winner in 2014-15).

Spellman more than lived up to the hype of being the conference’s preseason pick for top freshman by securing all nine possible votes to take home the hardware. He has notched 10.9 points (48.6 percent shooting), 7.8 boards and 1.5 blocks a night. Spellman became just the third ’Nova player to ever receive Big East Freshman of the Year accolades (Scottie Reynolds in 2006-07 and Tim Thomas in 1996-97).