No. 5 Villanova beats Xavier for 3rd straight Big East win
VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) Villanova coach Jay Wright never got particularly worried when his team struggled from 3-point range earlier in the season. He knew his players just weren't finding good looks.
It's fair to say they're now finding them.
Ryan Arcidiacono had 18 points and six assists, Dylan Ennis finished with 17 points and six rebounds, and No. 5 Villanova made a season-high 15 3-pointers to beat Xavier 88-75 on Wednesday night.
Josh Hart added 15 points and seven rebounds for the Wildcats (16-1 overall, 4-1 Big East), who have won three straight conference games by an average of nearly 15 points since their only loss of the season - a 66-61 setback to Seton Hall on Jan. 3.
The Wildcats have shot 38 for 86 from 3-point range during that stretch.
''Even when we were missing 3s, I knew we had good shooters,'' Wright said. ''We just weren't taking the right shots. That's what we've been doing well (in the last three games) - making the extra pass and getting wide-open shots. If good shooters get wide-open shots, they're going to make a good percentage.''
Center Matt Stainbrook scored 17 points on 7-for-8 shooting to lead Xavier (11-6, 2-3), and J.P. Macura and Jalen Reynolds added 14 points apiece.
The Musketeers shot 47.6 percent from the field and outscored Villanova 46-18 in the paint.
''I'm going to be very, very honest and tell you Villanova is a better team right now,'' Xavier coach Chris Mack said. ''They have juniors and seniors, and they are terrific. Not to put any type of pressure that isn't already on him but Jay's got a Final Four-quality team.''
Villanova, which came in shooting 35.3 percent from 3-point range, made six 3-pointers in the first seven minutes and shot 15 for 34 from long-range for the game.
Trailing by 23 early in the second half, the Musketeers reeled off 11 straight points to cut Villanova's lead to 61-49 with just under 10 minutes remaining.
But Ennis buried his sixth 3-pointer of the game to slow down the Xavier rally and Arcidiacono made his fourth 3 on Villanova's next trip down the floor. Before that stretch, the Wildcats had missed eight straight 3-pointers, which allowed the Musketeers to get back into the game.
After Macura's fourth 3-pointer sliced Xavier's deficit to 10 with five minutes left, Villanova scored eight straight points to put the game away, highlighted by a crucial three-point play from Darrun Hilliard (10 points).
''I was proud that our team continued to fight in the second half,'' Mack said. ''We didn't cash in but there aren't too many teams, if any, that are going to come into this building and get a win.''
In a matchup pitting the top two scoring teams in the Big East, Villanova immediately came out firing, drilling three quick 3-pointers to take an 11-2 lead. Back-to-back 3s from Ennis and Phil Booth put Villanova ahead 22-11 with 12:30 left, and a personal 8-0 run from Hart put Villanova up 34-18 with 7:30 remaining.
The Wildcats made eight of their first 12 3-point attempts and finished the first half shooting 50 percent from behind the arc to take a 45-27 lead into halftime.
''Coming out making 3s the way we did was big,'' Wright said. ''And we kind of just hung on in the second half.''
Xavier: Villanova is the only Big East opponent that Xavier has not beaten since joining the league in 2013-14. The Musketeers are 4-19 all-time against 'Nova and have lost three straight in the series. ... Before Wednesday's loss, Xavier had won three of its last four games against ranked opponents.
Villanova: The Wildcats have won 23 straight games at the Pavilion, a run that began with a win over South Florida on Feb. 9, 2013. ... Villanova finished with 24 assists and five turnovers.
GOTTA HAVE HART
Five of Hart's seven rebounds came on the offensive end, and Wright gave the sophomore guard high praise after the game, calling him ''one of the best offensive rebounders I've ever coached.''
When asked how he's able to always seems to know where the ball will be, Hart said with a smile: ''You just have to have heart - no pun intended.''
Xavier: hosts Marquette on Saturday.
Villanova: plays at Penn on Saturday.