Villanova Wildcats

Villanova falters late in stunning upset

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Villanova falters late in stunning upset

BOX SCORE 

OMAHA, Neb. — A Creighton season that was beginning to head in the wrong direction righted itself in glorious fashion for at least one afternoon.

The Bluejays came into their game against No. 3 Villanova on Saturday having lost three straight in the Big East. Starting forward Ronnie Harrell Jr. was out of the lineup because of a foot infection, and they were down eight points with 4 minutes left in regulation.

With Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas leading the way and two freshmen making major contributions, Creighton came back to defeat the highest-ranked opponent in program history with its 89-83 upset of the Wildcats in overtime.

"Sitting in the locker room, I couldn't stop smiling," said Foster, who scored 28 points. "I'm so happy how we won that game. We've been talking these last three games about how we want to play, and then to go out and execute what we said we wanted to do, it's a great feeling right now."

Creighton (20-9, 9-7 Big East) won for the first time in nine games against Villanova since 2014. The Bluejays also avenged a 20-point road loss to Villanova on Feb. 1.

"We always get a great game from Creighton, especially here," Nova coach Jay Wright said. "You know on the road in this league you're going to play in great environments against great teams. You have to be one step ahead of them to win on the road, and we weren't today. They were one step better."

Villanova (25-4, 12-4) had taken a 68-60 lead in regulation thanks to eight straight points from Jalen Brunson, but the Wildcats missed seven of its last nine shots in overtime as Creighton tightened its defense.

Davion Mintz scored on his own putback to put the Bluejays ahead 78-76, and Jacob Epperson made it a four-point game with two free throws with 1:45 left in the extra period.

Brunson lost control of the ball under his basket on the Wildcats' next possession, and Phil Booth committed a flagrant-1 foul before Mitch Ballock scored for Creighton to make it 84-78.

"I've had some good wins over the course of my career, and I've coached some special teams," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. "I don't know if I've ever been as proud of a group as I am right now. If you're going to be successful against Villanova, you can't turn it over and give them run-outs, you have to find a way to hang in there on the boards and you have to have toughness. We did all three good enough."

Khyri Thomas made five straight 3-pointers in the first 11 minutes to set a career high and finished with 24 points. Ballock added 13 and fellow freshman Epperson had all 12 of his points after halftime.

Brunson led the Wildcats with 22 points, Mikal Bridges had 18 and Omari Spellman added 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Ballock's 3-pointer gave Creighton a 72-71 lead with 30 seconds left in regulation, and Thomas went to the free-throw line with a chance to put the Bluejays up by three.

But he missed the free throw, and Donte DiVincenzo was fouled on the rebound. DiVincenzo made one of two free throws to tie it 72-all, and the game went to overtime when Bridges blocked Foster's layup try just ahead of the buzzer.

"I told them at the start of overtime, `You get to play five more minutes in the greatest game of your life,'" McDermott said.

Big picture
Villanova: The Wildcats are 3-3 in their last six games and are one game behind Big East-leading Xavier with two regular-season games left.

Creighton: Thomas' early barrage of 3-pointers created energy the Bluejays lacked in their last three conference games, and Epperson's big second half and overtime showed they just might be able to overcome the season-ending injury to big man Martin Krampelj.

Up next
Villanova visits Seton Hall on Wednesday. The Wildcats won the first meeting 92-76 on Feb. 4.

Creighton hosts DePaul on Tuesday. The Bluejays won the first meeting 76-75 on Feb. 7.

As key players head to NBA, where does Villanova go from here?

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As key players head to NBA, where does Villanova go from here?

The decisions made by Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman to remain in the NBA draft should ultimately be a good thing for the Villanova basketball program. DiVincenzo and Spellman join college teammates Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson in the 2018 draft class and there's a chance all four of them are selected in the first round. 

Having four players drafted in the first round will do wonders for Villanova on the recruiting trail. The caliber of high school players that Jay Wright recruits want to play in the NBA. Wright could point to the four first-rounders the program produced this year in addition to former players like Kyle Lowry, Dante Cunningham, Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono currently playing in the NBA.

While Wright's program will reap the benefits of producing NBA talent in the long run, there is no disputing the fact that DiVincenzo and Spellman deciding to leave is a significant blow to the program in the immediate future. DiVincenzo and Spellman would have been Villanova's two best players next season. Two guys capable of leading the Wildcats to a third national championship in four years. 

But their departures bring about a new reality for Wright — his four best players from last year's team are gone and he has only two proven players returning to lead his team into the 2018-19 season. 

The proven returners
Seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall combined to start 69 games last season and each played a critical role in winning the program's third national title. Next year will be Booth's fifth in the Villanova program and Paschall's fourth. These are proven performers and, more importantly, reliable leaders for what will largely be an inexperienced team. Booth will be one of the best guards in the Big East next season. Paschall is one of the most explosive athletes in the conference and his improved perimeter shooting last season was a key factor in Villanova winning the national championship.

Other key returners
This group will be the most important variable in Villanova's success next season. Collin Gillespie heads into his sophomore season poised for a big year. He made significant contributions off the bench as a freshman, overcoming an early season wrist injury that sidelined him for the better part of six weeks. A healthy and confident Gillespie will be a huge part of the Villanova backcourt. 

Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree rounded out Villanova's seven-man rotation last season. Like Gillespie, he enters his sophomore season with a wealth of big-game experience. Cosby-Roundtree proved his worth last season as a high-motor big man specializing in defensive energy, rebounding and running the floor. He'll now be asked to contribute on a more consistent level offensively.

Jermaine Samuels will play a critical role. Another rising sophomore, Samuels was making strides as a freshman before a broken hand sidelined him for an extended stretch during the beginning of conference play. He was never able to re-establish himself in the rotation once he returned. Samuels has all the physical tools to be a high-level Big East wing player in the mold of Hart and DiVincenzo. Keep an eye on Samuels.

Then there's big man Dylan Painter, who redshirted last season. Painter showed promise towards the end of his freshman season in 2017. The hope is that a year spent working on his strength and athleticism will pay dividends. The redshirt formula has been a big part of Villanova's success. Painter could become the latest example of that. 

The new arrivals
Wright welcomes in his highest-rated recruiting class in a decade. The headliner is five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly, who originally committed to Arizona but then de-committed in the midst of the FBI investigation into college basketball recruiting. Wright is confident that Quinerly will be cleared of any wrongdoing and will be eligible next season. Quinerly should make an instant impact, the next in a long line of terrific Villanova lead guards.

Cole Swider should also see significant playing time as a freshman. Swider is listed as a forward but is more than capable of doing damage from the perimeter thanks to his elite-level shooting ability. Swider is a natural scorer and should be a perfect fit for Villanova's three-point heavy offense. Brandon Slater is the third member of Villanova's freshman class, an athletic wing who will have ample opportunity to play his way into the rotation.

Villanova will also bring in at least one graduate transfer for next season. Joe Cremo has already committed to Villanova after starring at Albany the last two seasons. He averaged just under 18 points last year and shot nearly 46 percent from three-point range. The question is whether Cremo's production will carry over to the Big East level. Wright is hopeful that it will. Look for Cremo to be a key addition to the Villanova backcourt. 

Donte DiVincenzo latest Villanova player to declare for NBA draft

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Donte DiVincenzo latest Villanova player to declare for NBA draft

Another Villanova star is moving on ... maybe.

Donte DiVincenzo has declared for the NBA draft but will not hire an agent, meaning he can test the draft waters but will maintain his college eligibility should he chose to return to school. 

The redshirt sophomore was voted the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player after scoring a career-high 31 points in Villanova' national title win over Michigan. 

“Donte has consistently improved in his time at Villanova through dedication and a commitment to our core values,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “His play this season has created a unique opportunity for him to receive feedback from NBA teams in the draft process. We support Donte fully and our staff will work together with him and his family to help him assess the next step in his basketball career.”

DiVincenzo averaged 13.4 points and 3.5 assists while shooting 48.1 percent from the field. His numbers jumped to 15 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists 54.7 percent shooting during the NCAA Tournament.

He must decide by May 30 if he will enter the draft or return to school.

DiVincenzo is the latest Wildcat to declare for the draft, as the mass exodus of stars continues for Villanova.

Mikael Bridges and Jalen Brunson have declared and hired agents, marking the end of their collegiate careers, while redshirt freshman Omari Spellman will also test the waters.

On the bright side, Phil Booth and Eric Paschall announced they will both return for next season.