Paschall, Jenkins lead No. 2 Villanova past No. 23 Creighton
VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) Villanova claimed another Big East regular-season title, but the Wildcats aren’t ready to start celebrating. They are hoping to save that for later – just like last season.
Eric Paschall scored a season-high 19 points and Josh Hart added 16 to help No. 2 Villanova clinch its fourth straight conference title with a 79-63 victory over No. 23 Creighton on Saturday.
Kris Jenkins scored 15 points and Mikal Bridges had 11 for the defending national champion Wildcats, who were without big man Darryl Reynolds (rib) for the fifth straight game.
”We’re not done yet,” Jenkins said when asked to reflect on their achievements. ”There’s still a lot we want to get accomplished.”
Hart said there will come a day to fondly look back on all they have done, but the focus at the moment is the present.
”We’re never going to talk about it now,” Hart said before joking about the future. ”Twenty, 30 years from now I’m going to be bragging a lot.”
The heralded Villanova senior trio of Hart, Jenkins and Reynolds improved to 124-16 in their careers, and they never have had a losing streak. After losing to Butler at home on Wednesday, they didn’t want to start one now – even without Reynolds.
”Since Darryl got hurt, we’re not playing well but we’re playing tough,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. ”It speaks to their leadership and speaks to their character.”
Hart said it comes down to the team’s approach.
”Just battle, have attitude,” he said. ”We know we’ll be successful if we do that.”
Marcus Foster scored 25 points and Khyri Thomas had 17 for Creighton, which has lost six of 10 after an 18-1 start.
”To beat a great team like that, you have to limit your mistakes,” Foster said.
The game was tied at 33 at halftime and the teams traded baskets over the first 6 1/2 minutes of the second half, resulting in seven lead changes.
Jenkins, the hero of the Wildcats’ championship victory last season with a last-second, game-winning 3-pointer, missed his first five 3-point attempts before draining one from the left corner after an assist from Jalen Brunson with 11:12 left in the game to give Villanova a 51-47 lead.
The basket not only gave the Wildcats a little breathing room but seemed to boost their confidence.
Villanova matched its biggest lead to that point on Hart’s follow dunk with 8:44 remaining that capped an 8-2 run over 2:28 since Jenkins’ basket. And the Wildcats’ lead reached 65-54 with 6:19 left on Paschall’s acrobatic, over-the-head follow layup.
Creighton never got closer than seven points the rest of the way.
Creighton was vying to beat a ranked team for the fifth time this season but for the first time in school history versus a team in the top three. The Bluejays entered 0-12 against teams ranked in the top three. Creighton beat two No. 4-ranked teams, defeating Arizona State on Dec. 13, 1963 and Villanova on Jan. 20, 2014.
But coach Greg McDermott said the Bluejays’ 16 turnovers and inability to keep Villanova off the free-throw line in the second half doomed their upset bid.
The Wildcats were 17 for 22 from the free throw line, including 14 for 18 after halftime.
”Villanova has a terrific basketball team,” he said. ”Our inability to play without fouling, you’re asking for trouble. And that’s exactly what happened.”
Creighton: The Bluejays will try to regain their footing and take some momentum into the conference tournament beginning on Tuesday at home against St. John’s before finishing the regular season March 4 at Marquette.
Villanova: The Wildcats have a week off before facing Georgetown on March 4 in their regular-season finale that has no implication for them in the league standings. They are guaranteed the top seed in the Big East Tournament and, barring a first-round exit there, likely will be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Villanova honored its three seniors – Hart, Jenkins and Reynolds – in a pregame ceremony. They suffered their first-ever loss at the Pavilion, Villanova’s on-campus home, in Wednesday’s 74-66 defeat to Butler that snapped a 48-game Pavilion winning streak.
Speaking of Hart and Jenkins, Wright said, ”These are two of the most intelligent, most humble, real talented guys I’ve seen.”
Saturday marked the last game at the Pavilion until the fall of 2018, as it will undergo a renovation and be renamed Finneran Pavilion. The building, which opened in 1986, is far from fancy and lacks much of the modern amenities recruits expect today.
Still, Wright has been able to recruit top-notch players.
”When nobody is in it, it’s ugly,” he said. ”But on game night it’s the best building in the country. We don’t show it when nobody’s in it.”
Wright said Reynolds’ injury is about pain tolerance. He is day-to-day and Wright didn’t indicate when he would return although the Big East Tournament seems a likely target to try to play.
Wright credited his players when asked why Villanova has been able to win four straight regular-season Big East titles.
”We have really talented players and guys who help each other win,” he said.
Creighton: Hosts St. John’s on Tuesday.
Villanova: Closes regular season at Georgetown on Saturday.
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