CINCINNATI (AP)Justin Moore scored 25 points and Villanova edged No. 16 Xavier 64-63 Tuesday night for its biggest victory under first-year head coach Kyle Neptune.
Cam Whitmore added 11 points for the Wildcats (14-14, 8-9 Big East), who dealt a big blow to the Musketeers’ conference title hopes.
Villanova overcame a 13-point deficit in the second half. Neptune dismissed the notion that it was his team’s top win.
”We don’t really look at it like that,” he said. ”We always just want to be the best team we can be by the end of the season. That’s our goal. Our guys are proud. We played extremely hard.”
Souley Boum led the Musketeers (20-8, 12-5 Big East) with 17 points.
Two free throws by Boum got the Musketeers within one point with 36 seconds left. Eric Dixon was called for traveling, giving Xavier possession with 11 seconds left, but the Musketeers committed their 14th turnover.
Xavier had only four turnovers in the first half. Villanova finished with 19 points off Musketeers’ turnovers.
”Our turnovers in the second half, it overwhelmed us,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said. ”Villanova isn’t a team that tries to turn you over. They were unforced. That was the difference in the game.”
The Musketeers beat Villanova 88-80 on Jan. 7. It was their first true road win in the series since the 1955-56 season, but they fell short of a series sweep at home.
Xavier played its sixth game without second-leading scorer and leading rebounder Zach Freemantle, who scored 29 points in an 88-80 win at Villanova on Jan. 7. Freemantle has a foot injury and is expected to return by the postseason. The Musketeers are 4-3 without him.
”Our lack of depth is something we have to play through, and be smart with,” Miller said. ”Did that play a role in us having 10 turnovers in the second half? No.”
Villanova is 12-3 this season when allowing fewer than 70 points, but 1-11 when allowing 70 or more.
The game was played at Xavier’s preferred pace early on.
Desmond Claude who returned after missing two games due to illness, hit a 3-pointer to spark a 6-0 run to put the Musketeers ahead 20-12.
”It took us a while to adjust to their speed on offense,” Neptune said.
Moore who returned in January after missing 10 months with a torn Achilles, hit a 3-pointer to spark a 10-0 run to get the Wildcats back in the game.
”They’re a different team with Justin Moore,” Miller said.
Boum beat the halftime buzzer with a 3-pointer from near midcourt to give the Musketeers a 36-30 lead.
Dixon’s layup gave Villanova a 52-50 lead with 8:30 remaining. It was the Wildcats’ first lead since the 18:50 mark of the first half.
Kunkel appeared to have tied the score with a layup and was fouled with 2:35 left, but the official called traveling. Moore followed with a 3-pointer to put Villanova up by five.
”It’s a big win for us,” Moore said. ”Not just that we got the win, but the way we won. We were down, we persevered and came back. We played tough.”
Villanova was trailing 40-30 early in the second half when the Wildcats players, led by Moore, had a spirited conversation during a media timeout. ”It was just us talking to each other about what we needed to do,” Moore said. ”It was me, and other guys who have been in this position.” Less than eight minutes later, Moore tied the score with a layup. ”He’s not just our best player,” Neptune said, ”he’s our leader. He’s everything for our team.”
Villanova: The Wildcats finally are getting healthy. After the Wildcats’ top six scorers missed a combined 36 games to injury, the Feb. 11 win over Seton Hall was the first time all were available. Nova’s top six scorers missed a combined five games all last season.
Xavier: Coming into this season, the Musketeers had defeated Villanova only twice since joining the Big East for the 2013-14 season.
Villanova: Hosts No. 19 Creighton on Saturday.
Xavier: At Seton Hall on Friday.
AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25