All that talk of balance. All that talk of Villanova’s decline. All that talk of what a wild Big East Tournament this would be.
All merely talk.
Villanova remains the class of the conference, even after all that talent Jay Wright and Co. sent to the NBA. Friday night was just another reminder. Down 10 in the first half and seven in the final minutes of regulation, the top-seeded Wildcats still found a way to advance to their fourth straight tournament final, rallying past fourth-seeded Xavier 71-67 in front of a pro-Villanova sold-out crowd at the Garden on Friday night.
Eric Paschall’s tip-in of a Phil Booth miss with 7.6 seconds left sent the game to overtime and the two seniors dominated from there, scoring a combined 10 points in the extra session as the Wildcats won their eighth straight game in the league tournament.
Xavier was in complete control, up seven with 4:43 to go, before Villanova made its big run. Jermaine Samuels started it with a 3-pointer and added another one with 49 seconds left. The shot hit off the front him, the backboard and dropping in to slice the lead to one. After Zach Hankins split two free throws with 19.9 seconds left, Paschall pulled Villanova even with 7.6 remaining. On the other end, Naji Marshall was called for a charge, setting up overtime.
In the extra session, Paschall sank back-to-back 3-pointers to give Villanova a six-point lead with 2:22 to go. Xavier had a chance to tie the score in the final seconds, but Paul Scruggs (career-high 28 points) and Ryan Welage both badly missed from beyond the arc as the Musketeers lost for the sixth consecutive time in the Big East semifinals.
Booth had 28 points to lead Villanova (24-9) and Samuels had 17. Paschall added 12. Hankins added 18 for Xavier (18-15).
Xavier, a seven-point underdog, had to be delighted with the opening 20 minutes. It owned the paint, limited Villanova from deep and had 11 assists, five from Quentin Goodin, on 14 made baskets. Scruggs was the star, scoring 15 points and making all five of his field goal attempts, while Booth kept Villanova close, scoring 13 points.
The Wildcats struggled from the field, shooting just 4-of-14 from 3-point range and were fortunate to be down by only two possessions considering they were outscored in the paint, 22-12, and committed eight first half turnovers. Down by as many as 10, the Wildcats did close the half better, holding Xavier to a point over the final 2:34.