CINCINNATI (AP)Collin Gillespie scored 21 points, Justin Moore had 16 and No. 14 Villanova held off No. 17 Xavier 64-60 on Wednesday night.
Moore, the reigning Big East player of the week, scored 10 points in the second half and finished with nine rebounds to help the Wildcats (12-4, 5-1 Big East) win their fifth straight. Eric Dixon added 15 points and 10 boards.
But the Musketeers made things difficult for Villanova, which committed 13 turnovers.
”Really proud of our guys, against a great Xavier team,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. ”We knew there was no way they were going to lay down, and they didn’t. They were great in the second half. We just gutted it out.”
It was the second consecutive big game for Gillespie, who had a season-high 28 points Saturday in a victory over DePaul.
”I thought he was a true warrior,” Wright said. ”He played 35 minutes. Collin just carried us.”
Paul Scruggs and Nate Johnson each scored 15 for Xavier (12-3, 2-2), which trailed by 12 with 10 minutes remaining before rallying.
”They’re older, experienced guys,” Gillespie said. ”They’ve been in big games before. Those guys are dynamic guards who can do a lot of things.”
Villanova had a scoring drought of more than six minutes, helping the Musketeers get back in the game. Scruggs hit two key 3-pointers, including one that tied the score at 56 with 2:16 left.
But then Moore made a layup, Brandon Slater sank a couple of free throws and Villanova was back in front by four with a minute to play. Moore sealed it by hitting two foul shots with six seconds left.
The Musketeers missed too many opportunities at the rim, including a layup attempt by Scruggs that would have tied it with 18 seconds to go.
Villanova overcame foul trouble, with Slater and Jermaine Samuels both fouling out.
”We played a great team in a great college basketball atmosphere,” Wright said. ”We struggled with their physicality. They forced us into travels and turnovers. We need to get better at that.”
Villanova, responsible for two of the Musketeers’ three losses this season, dominated the first half.
It was an ugly start for both teams, who were a combined 3 for 16 from the field early. But when Villanova began to heat up, Xavier didn’t.
The Musketeers shot 28% in the first half while going 2 for 12 from 3-point range. They finished at 32.7% from the field.
Villanova got 14 points from Gillespie and 12 from Dixon to build a 38-27 halftime lead. The Wildcats outscored Xavier 24-15 in the paint and had 12 second-chance points in the first half.
”We didn’t play as hard on defense in the first half,” Johnson said. ”Against a great team, you can’t do that. We have to learn from this and move on.”
Xavier was down 10 with a little more than 14 minutes left before Johnson’s 3-pointer woke up the sellout crowd. But the Wildcats answered every Musketeers run and finished 20 for 21 at the free throw line.
”No matter what happens, we had to stick together,” Dixon said. ”That’s the attitude we talk about. They’re a good team. They’re going to make runs.”
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Xavier forward Zach Freemantle made his fifth straight start, but scored only three points on 1-for-6 shooting. Freemantle missed the first six games with an ankle injury and is still trying to regain his form. ”Zach’s got to be better. He knows that,” Xavier coach Travis Steele said. ”Those shots are going to fall, but he can’t let that affect his defense.”
Villanova: Defense has been the calling card for the Wildcats under Wright, and this season is no different. Villanova allowed 56.7 points in its first 11 wins coming into Wednesday’s game. Opponents had averaged 75.5 points in the Wildcats’ four losses.
Xavier: Despite the program’s success, the Musketeers have managed to beat Villanova only twice in 18 meetings since the Big East was reformed for the 2013-14 season. Both victories came at home. Villanova has won the past five meetings and leads the overall series 32-6. ”They’re the premier program, not only in the Big East but in the country,” Steele said. ”We understand how hard it is to beat them.”
Villanova hosts Butler on Sunday.
Xavier hosts Creighton on Saturday.
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