Another No. 1 falls as No. 5 Xavier takes down Villanova

Another No. 1 falls as No. 5 Xavier takes down Villanova
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The last time Villanova and Xavier met, Xavier redshirt freshman point guard Edmond Sumner was carried off the court on a stretcher after a scary fall in the opening minutes of the Wildcats’ blowout win. On Wednesday, Sumner scored a team-high-tying 19 points, dished out a career-high nine assists and grabbed six rebounds as the No. 5 Musketeers beat No. 1 Villanova 90–83. The Wildcats are the sixth -- and perhaps not the last -- AP No. 1 team to lose on the road in a wild 2015-16 college basketball season. 

With the victory, Xavier (25–3, 13–3) is now in play for a potential No. 1 seed in the Big East and NCAA Tournament.  

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Entering Wednesday’s game, and since the creation of the new Big East in 2013, Villanova was 6–0 against Xavier with an average margin of victory of 17.2 points. The Musketeers ended the Wildcats’ head-to-head winning streak in front of a home crowd in Cincinnati, while also earning their first win over a top-ranked team since 2004. 

The game was perhaps the biggest game ever played in Xavier’s Cintas Center, which set a new attendance record as 10,727 fans packed in the arena. Wednesday also marked the first time Xavier had hosted a No. 1 team in the arena’s 16-year history.

Villanova forward Kris Jenkins scored 19 of his 22 points in the first half, as the Wildcats led by as many as six before halftime. But a 7–0 run by Xavier reserve guard J.P. Macura changed the momentum of the game. Macura capped off the run by stealing an inbounds pass from Villanova, sprinting the length of the floor and capitalizing on a three-point play at the free throw line, giving Xavier a 23–21 lead with about nine minutes of play left in the first half. 

Villanova guard Phil Booth hit a three-pointer on the Wildcats’ next possession to reclaim the lead with 9:38 to play in the first half, but it was the last time the Wildcats led in the game. Macura hit three-pointers from the left wing on consecutive possessions later in the half as Xavier began to distance itself from a Villanova team that has been the Musketeers’ kryptonite over the past three seasons.

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Xavier mixed man-to-man and 1-3-1 zone looks on defense to hold every Villanova player not named Jenkins in check, while also using its depth to get the Wildcats in foul trouble.

Jenkins, Josh Hart and Mikal Bridges fouled out, while center Daniel Ochefu played limited minutes with four fouls.  

Jenkins scored the first three points of the second half on an and-one opportunity but then picked up his third and fourth fouls in short order. Villanova struggled to find a secondary source of offense with Jenkins on the bench.

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Xavier got strong production from its starting lineup all the way down to its bench, which contributed 34 points and 14 rebounds, as Villanova's main scoring threats went quiet. The Wildcats’ two leading scorers from their last meeting against the Musketeers -- Ryan Archidiacono and Josh Hart -- couldn't find their rhythm on the road, combining for 21 points on 7 of 24 shooting.

The Wildcats shot a respectable 12 of 31 from behind the arc, but three of their makes were in the final minute when the game was out of reach.

Xavier, which now has one of the best resumes in the country, is now a half-game back of Villanova in the Big East standings and in possession of a season-defining win. It also proved that it, along with Villanova, is the class of the Big East and in contention for two of the No. 1 seeds on Selection Sunday.