Halfway through the second half of Wednesday night’s Big East showdown between Villanova and Xavier, J.P. Macura delivered one of the game’s most memorable plays.
The Musketeers guard ripped an offensive rebound right out of the hands of Kris Jenkins even though the Villanova forward outweighed Macura by nearly 50 pounds. Seconds later, Macura ran toward the Xavier bench screaming and pumping his fists after Jenkins committed his fifth foul rather than surrender a Jalen Reynolds dunk.
Macura’s swipe and celebration served as ideal symbols for what transpired Wednesday night at the Cintas Center. Fifth-ranked Xavier toppled No.1 Villanova 90-83 in part because winning this game mattered a little bit more to the Musketeers.
In Xavier’s first three seasons in the Big East, Villanova has been the Musketeers’ chief tormentor. Xavier entered play Wednesday night 34-16 against Big East teams not named Villanova and 0-6 against the Wildcats with the losses coming by an average of 17.2 points per game.
The most recent of those two losses was a 31-point shellacking in Philadelphia to open Big East play nearly two months ago. The loss before that came by 17 points in the Big East title game last March.
Payback was no doubt on Xavier’s mind as it took the floor Wednesday night, but that was far from the Musketeers’ only motivation. They needed a signature win like this to eliminate the one flaw in their NCAA tournament resume and have a realistic chance at earning their first No. 1 seed in school history.
While Xavier entered play Wednesday night with an impressive 24-3 record and seven RPI top 50 victories, the Musketeers had yet to defeat a single Top 25 opponent. The best teams they had beaten were Dayton, USC, Michigan, Seton Hall and Providence, all quality teams to be sure but none anywhere close to the caliber of a Villanova team that had only lost three games prior to Wednesday.
Xavier has the big-time victory it lacked because its guards outplayed the more highly touted Villanova backcourt. Edmond Sumner, Myles Davis and Macura scored a combined 54 points and dished out 15 assists as the Musketeers extended a three-point halftime lead to as many as 15 points late in the second half.
Sumner, injured in the opening minutes of the first game against Villanova, was the catalyst all night for the Musketeers, slicing up the Wildcats off the dribble and either drawing contact at the rim or dishing to a teammate for an open look. The freshman got to the foul line 13 times and dished out a career-high nine assists.
Jenkins kept Villanova competitive for awhile by scoring 22 points in the game’s first 21 minutes, but the other Wildcats did not do enough once he got into foul trouble. Guards Ryan Arcidiacono, Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart combined to shoot 12-for-37 from the field and 5-for-20 behind the arc.
While Villanova remains in first place in the Big East despite its loss, it’s likely a new team will ascend to No. 1 on Monday. Second-ranked Kansas would be a very worthy choice if it defeats Texas Tech this weekend in Lawrence.
You can bet Xavier will take pleasure in being the one to knock Villanova from the No. 1 spot. After three years of torment at the hands of the Wildcats, the Musketeers finally secured sweet revenge.
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