Photo courtesy of Villanova University Athletics.
By David Cordova
The 35th annual Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden was a great event, as there were three days of competitive basketball in the cathedral that is famously branded as the World’s Most Famous Arena all over three days. But when the dust settled, there would be only two teams that would meet up for the coveted title.
Villanova, the defending national champions, was 30-3 overall heading into the game and the No. 2 team in the Associated Press poll, was the heavily favored team in this matchup, as they were considered the team to beat, considering they were the No. 1 seed. Their road to the final started out with a 41-point blowout win over the struggling St. John’s in the quarterfinals, and then a tough two-point win in the semifinals over Seton Hall, a team that they had beaten twice this season and the team that beat them last year in the championship game.
Their counterparts, Creighton, was one of the most prominent teams in the conference in the beginning of the season, going 13-0 in their first thirteen games of the season and then being ranked as high as No. 7 in the Associated Press poll in January. Since then, they have struggled, but was able to get past Providence in the quarterfinals and Xavier in the semifinals.
The championship game was one for the ages, but only one team would establish their dominance by defensively shutting down the other team’s star player and holding them to a certain percentage, while also displaying a great running game and shot selection, which bring them to victory, a Big East championship and a possible No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
Villanova 74, Creighton 60
Villanova started out aggressive from the jump with two three-pointers from senior Kris Jenkins, as they led 6-2, with 17:03 to go. Then Creighton answered with a three-pointer from sophomore Khyri Thomas and junior Marcus Foster to take the lead, 7-6, with 15:54 to go.
The Bluejays struggled for most of the first half with shooting from long range, but made up with it with their scrappy efforts on the boards, as evidenced with senior Zach Hanson rebounded a miss and scored to tie the score at 11-11, with 10:28 to go.
Villanova would stay one step ahead of their counterparts, as senior and Big East Player of the Year, Josh Hart would drain two three-pointers to bring the Wildcats up four, 19-15, with 8:12 left. As the game went on, sophomore Jalen Brunson would take the game over, as he would score six consecutive points to bring the Wildcats ahead by eight, 28-20, with 4:29 left in the half. Their strong play would take them into the half, leading by fourteen, 36-22.
The same result would continue in the second half, as the Wildcats would lead by sixteen, 42-26, with 15:30 to go in the game. The Bluejays would get five consecutive points from sophomore Ronnie Harrell Jr. to cut the deficit to 46-31, with 13:47 to go. They would get to within twelve multiple times, but the Wildcats would continue to stay ahead, due to the Bluejays to make shots from three-point range and their high turnover rate.
The Wildcats would execute their game plan in getting Creighton’s Justin Patton to foul out of the game and also limiting most of their players to single digits, which contributed to Villanova winning the Big East title.
Hart led Villanova with 29 points and six rebounds, Brunson added 17 points and five assists and Jenkins would add 14 points. For Creighton, Foster and senior Cole Huff led with 13 points and Patton would add 10 points in the loss.