Xavier Musketeers

Villanova rallies past Xavier for OT win, advances to 5th straight Big East championship game

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Villanova rallies past Xavier for OT win, advances to 5th straight Big East championship game

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NEW YORK — Phil Booth scored 28 points, Jermaine Samuels hit a trio of critical 3-pointers and No. 25 Villanova rallied past Xavier 71-67 in overtime Friday night to reach its fifth consecutive Big East championship game.

The top-seeded Wildcats, trying to become the first school in the 40-year history of the Big East to win three straight tournament titles, will play second-seeded Marquette or third-seeded Seton Hall on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

In a scintillating opener to the semifinal doubleheader, Villanova (24-9) erased a seven-point deficit in the last 3 minutes of regulation. Booth and fellow senior star Eric Paschall each scored five points in the extra period as the defending national champions held off a determined Xavier squad.

Paul Scruggs scored a career-high 28 points and Zach Hankins added 18 on 8-of-10 shooting for the fourth-seeded Musketeers (18-15), who had won seven of eight. Scruggs, a sophomore guard, also had 11 rebounds and seven assists, carrying Xavier all night with an outstanding performance.

Musketeers leading scorer Naji Marshall was limited to a season-low two points on 1-of-12 shooting, including 0 for 7 from 3-point range. He fouled out early in overtime after playing nearly 40 minutes.

Xavier has reached the semifinals in all six seasons since joining the Big East, but its only appearance in the championship game was a loss to Villanova in 2015.

Samuels finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and four assists for Villanova. Paschall scored 12, including the 3-pointer that put the Wildcats ahead to stay early in overtime.

Booth was one point shy of his career high set against Kansas on Dec. 15.

After trailing by 10 late in the first half, the Wildcats were still down seven with 3 minutes left when they finally made their move.

Samuels sank a pair of 3s, including one that caromed high off the front rim, the backboard and through to trim the deficit to 57-56 with 48.9 seconds remaining.

Hankins hit one of two free throws at the other end, and Paschall tipped in a miss by Booth to tie it at 58 with 7.6 seconds to go.

Marshall was called for a charge as he tried to win it with a floater, but he intercepted Villanova's inbounds pass at halfcourt with 1.6 seconds left and missed a desperation heave at the buzzer, sending this one to overtime.

Scruggs, who came in averaging 12.1 points per game, scored 15 in the first half. He made all five shots from the field, banking in a fortuitous 3-pointer from the left corner high off the glass, to help Xavier build a 34-28 lead at the break.

Big picture 
Xavier: Despite a late push, it appears the Musketeers will miss the NCAA Tournament after making five consecutive appearances and 12 in the past 13 years. They were a No. 1 seed last year, but got off to a slow start this season under first-year coach Travis Steele and couldn't overcome a six-game losing streak in the middle of the Big East regular season.

Villanova: Improved to 13-2 in the Big East Tournament since the 2013-14 realignment. The Wildcats are in the championship game for the 10th time, tying Connecticut for third-most behind Syracuse (15) and Georgetown (13). Syracuse (1986-90) is the only other school to make it in five straight years.

Up next 
Xavier: Will hope for postseason bid Sunday, perhaps to the NIT.

Villanova: Split two regular-season meetings with Marquette in February, with each school winning at home. Also split with Seton Hall, losing 79-75 on the road in the regular-season finale last Saturday.

No. 17 Villanova stumbles to 3rd straight loss, falls to Xavier

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No. 17 Villanova stumbles to 3rd straight loss, falls to Xavier

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CINCINNATI — Xavier players ran to the student section to slap hands after their biggest win of the season. A couple of weeks ago, nobody could have anticipated them knocking off No. 17 Villanova by double digits.

Those low expectations made it all the sweeter.

Naji Marshall scored 17 points and Xavier used a big surge in the second half to rally past Villanova 66-54 Sunday, leaving the Wildcats with three straight losses in Big East play for the first time since the conference was reconfigured.

It was only Xavier's second win against the Wildcats in the Big East.

"I've never beaten `Nova in my career," junior point guard Quentin Goodin said. "Having all the doubters against us, I feel we proved a point today."

The Musketeers (15-13, 7-8) won their fourth straight — matching their season high — and ended their run of lopsided losses against the Wildcats. Villanova (20-8, 11-4) had won five in a row against the Musketeers, including an 85-75 victory on Jan. 18.

That loss started a six-game Xavier losing streak that dropped the defending regular season champions to last in the Big East. Now they're on their way back up.

"We're a heck of a lot better than we were then — a lot," coach Travis Steele said. "Dramatically."

It showed in the big moments.

Marshall had seven points during a 17-0 run that gave Xavier its first lead midway through the second half. Marshall has been the catalyst during Xavier's winning streak, averaging 20.5 points.

"We all need to be on one bus, all together on this," Marshall said. "It's not about individual play."

Villanova struggled to hit shots during back-to-back road losses at St. John's and Georgetown, and the poor shooting carried over. The Wildcats missed 11 consecutive shots during Xavier's decisive run and were only 4 of 18 from beyond the arc in the second half, when they went more than 9 minutes without scoring.

"It seemed like a long time," coach Jay Wright said. "I think we're just not executing the way we want to, not getting any easy baskets off our defense, so it makes every shot monumental."

Phil Booth had 12 points in the first half, when the Wildcats led by as many as nine points. Their 30-27 halftime lead ended a streak of three straight halves allowing at least 40 points. Booth made only one of his eight shots in the second half and finished with 14 points.

Marshall hit a floater and a 3-pointer as Xavier got its first lead, 49-44, midway through the second half and started its decisive run.

Poll implications 
The Wildcats will plummet after their 85-73 loss at Georgetown on Wednesday — the most points they'd allowed this season — and the 12-point loss at Xavier. They've been ranked for six straight weeks.

Big picture 
Villanova: The loss to Xavier is telling. The Wildcats have won 11 of 13 since both have been in the Big East — the conference was reconfigured for the 2013-14 season. Their only other loss to Xavier during that span was 90-83 at the Cintas Center on Feb. 24, 2016, when Villanova was ranked No. 1.

Xavier: The winning streak has pulled the Musketeers out of the Big East basement and moved the defending regular season champions up to a tie for fourth place.

Old times 
Both teams wore throwback jerseys reminiscent of their 1980s uniforms.

No points for 'Nova 
Villanova's 54 points were its fewest since a 73-46 loss to Michigan the third game of the season. In the last two games, the Wildcats have shot 34 percent from the field and 24.7 percent from beyond the arc.

Paschall better 
Eric Paschall led the Wildcats with 17 points. In his two previous games, he was only 6 of 22 from the field.

Nothing free
Villanova shot only four free throws and made them all. Xavier was 10 of 18 from the line.

Up next
Villanova hosts Marquette on Wednesday. The Wildcats lost at Marquette 66-65 last Sunday.

Xavier plays at St. John's on Thursday. The Musketeers close the season by hosting St. John's on March 9.

Villanova's magic number heading into Big East Tourney

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Villanova's magic number heading into Big East Tourney

There seems to be a magic number surrounding Villanova heading into this week's Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden.

Jay Wright's Wildcats (27-4 overall) are the No. 2 seed for the tourney in the Big Apple as No. 1 seed Xavier (also 27-4 overall) over owns a better conference record, 15-3 to Villanova's 14-4.

But the 'Cats hold the advantage in the AP poll this week as they're back up to No. 2.

After topping both Seton Hall and Georgetown to close the regular season last week, the Wildcats moved up two spots, just behind unanimous No. 1 Virginia.

Xavier, which Villanova beat twice this season, is No. 3. Michigan State and Duke rounded out the top five this week.

The fact of the matter is, the AP rankings are thrown out the window this week. The Big East Tourney seeds aren't the biggest deal in the world, either, because at the 2-seed, Villanova and still can't meet Xavier until the tournament final on Saturday. Villanova on Thursday at 7 p.m. will get the winner of Wednesday's Marquette-DePaul game. If the Wildcats were to advance from there, they would get the winner of Seton Hall-Butler before potentially seeing Xavier in the final.

But the only rankings that matter right now are the ones that are released by the selection committee on Sunday evening.

Outside of a total meltdown in NYC, Villanova is still primed for a No. 1 seed and a trip to Pittsburgh for the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament and potentially Boston for the East Regional.

But that's all in the future. The now for Villanova is to take care of business at MSG.