Top-ranked Villanova hosts Creighton

PHILADELPHIA — Top-ranked Villanova will begin a four-game Big East homestand with a battle against Creighton on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Wildcats claimed their 20th victory of the season with a gritty 85-82 outcome Sunday at Marquette despite not having starting guard Phil Booth. The junior is out indefinitely because of a fractured bone in his right hand.

Jalen Brunson tied his career high with 31 points and Donte DiVincenzo added 23 for Villanova (20-1, 7-1).

It’s the sixth consecutive season the Wildcats have recorded 20 or more victories. The 20-1 start also ties the best mark at this point in program history since the 2009-10 season.

Creighton is quite formidable with a 17-5 overall record and 7-3 in the Big East.

The short-handed Wildcats received a bit of a scare against the Golden Eagles when Brunson appeared to injure his ankle midway through the second half. But he returned to help seal the win.

“Jalen actually apologized to me,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “He said that when it first happened he thought it was bad and that he was in trouble. But he said later it wasn’t too bad.”

With Booth sidelined, DiVincenzo probably will continue to start. Villanova is 28-2 in games in which DiVincenzo has scored in double figures over the last two seasons.

But the tempo doesn’t change for Villanova when DiVincenzo shifts from the sixth man to a starter. In the first half against Marquette, the Wildcats’ intensity was matched.

“We found out what it is to play 40 minutes of Villanova basketball, not have another team play that hard, harder than us for 40 minutes,” DiVincenzo said.

Villanova, which will enter this matchup as the No. 1 team for the seventh time in the last eight weeks, is 7-0 at home this season.

The Wildcats have taken 16 of the 18 all-time meetings against Creighton, including seven in a row.

Creighton has won consecutive games over St. John’s and Georgetown in the last week.

The Bluejays are led by senior guard Marcus Foster, who averages 19.9 points per game, and Khyri Thomas, who is at 14.6.

In its last game, Creighton upended Georgetown, 85-77.

“I thought our guys hung in there and fought,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott told the Omaha World-Herald. “We made enough plays down the stretch. Nothing’s easy in this league.”

Foster was clutch down the stretch and the team hit 9 of 10 free throws to secure the victory.

“That definitely was important for us, just because we hadn’t gotten consecutive stops in awhile,” Foster told the World-Herald. “For them to get those stops back-to-back, that really helped us and pushed us to get some energy.”

Creighton has plenty of offensive firepower.

For the Bluejays to knock off the No. 1 team on the road, it will come down to defensive principles.

“We’ve got some guys that can defend,” McDermott said. “We were tired (against Georgetown), there’s no question. I think they were tired, too. But we were able to suck it up and get some stops.”