Gillespie Leads Wildcats To Big East Tournament Title


Courtesy of Maggie Mengel/Villanovan Photography

Collin Gillespie celebrates after the Wildcats won the Big East Tournament.

Colin Beazley, Co-Editor-in-Chief

NEW YORK 一 The storylines of the Big East Tournament final were many, but Creighton head coach Greg McDermott was able to sum the result up best.

“At the end, we got Gillespied.”

Creighton played the game it desired. It held Villanova to 33% shooting, 25% from three, the Big East’s best defense on display. Creighton’s sophomore center Ryan Kalkbrenner had his way inside with the Wildcats, scoring 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting, and the Bluejays outscored the Wildcats by 14 in the paint. The end result? The same as always, the Wildcats jumping around on the court, celebrating under streams of confetti, winning their fifth Big East Tournament title in seven years by defeating the Bluejays, 54-48.

“Most times that’s going to be good enough,” McDermott said. “But tonight it wasn’t.”

Graduate guard Collin Gillespie wasn’t available when the Wildcats were bounced from last year’s tournament in the first round, recovering from surgery for a torn MCL suffered in Villanova’s Senior Night win over Creighton. This year, he was there when he was needed most, hitting two crucial three pointers over Kalkbrenner with just over two minutes remaining to take the lead. 

“He has no fear (of failure),” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said postgame. “He’s just playing with absolutely no fear because he knows he’s put the work in. He knows he’s got a great family that loves him. He knows his teammates love him. That’s what he cares about. ‘Did I work hard? Did I prepare? Win or lose, I’ll take the result.’”

At the end of the celebration, there was Gillespie, again. Gillespie was the final man to climb the ladder and cut down the net, ending with not a sliver of polyester, but the entire net itself. The graduate yelled in jubilation, swinging it around like a lasso as he captured the Tournament crown in the final act of his Big East career. Gillespie was awarded the Dave Gavitt Trophy as the Most Outstanding Player of the Big East Tournament after the game, becoming the first player in league history to win the Gavitt Trophy, Player of the Year and Scholar-Athlete of the Year in the same season.

“If you told me this five years ago, I would question it,” Gillespie said. “But I’ve worked hard… that’s just a credit to the staff and how hard they’ve pushed me and [to] my teammates for having confidence in me.”

The clinching blows from Gillespie wiped away memories of a defensive slugfest, as for much of the game, offense was nonexistent. At halftime, Villanova led the Bluejays, 19-18, and the two teams had combined to shoot a frigid 7.7% from three. Creighton had missed all thirteen of its three point attempts, and Villanova junior guard Justin Moore led all scorers with six points.

Offense remained at a premium in the second half. At the game’s conclusion, both teams had identical 33% FG rates, but Creighton made just three of a whopping 29 attempts from three, while Villanova hit eight of its 32.

Gillespie and Moore were the two Wildcats able to find any offensive success. A day after being held to five and six points, respectively, the two combined for 33 of Villanova’s 54 points. Gillespie may have hit the key threes to give Villanova the lead, but it was Moore with the final layup to put Villanova up two scores with 15 seconds to go.

“We lean on each other,” Gillespie said. “We trust in each other and have confidence in each other to make plays. Like Coach said, I was tired on the one last possession. We gave it to Justin, and we were going to let Justin make a play.”

Down four, Creighton’s Trey Alexander missed a three, Ryan Hawkins couldn’t tip in a follow up and Gillespie secured the rebound and iced the game with two free throws, clinching the tournament title. A year after not being able to play in the postseason, it was fitting that Gillespie was able to hit the shots to erase all doubt.

“I’m grateful to be back on the floor with my teammates and coaches,” Gillespie said. “That’s really all I can think about, is just how grateful I am to be with these guys again.”

While Villanova returned to the top of the Big East, a perch that is all too familiar for Wright and company, Creighton has lost all four Big East Championships it has played in since joining the league in 2013. 

“There’s great programs, great coaches in this league, and we’re honored to be a part of it,” McDermott said. “And this is our fourth time sitting up here talking to you after one of these losses in the championship, and that’s tough to swallow.”

Both teams will await their destinations on Selection Sunday, with Villanova likely earning a two seed with the conference crown, while Creighton projects as an eight or a nine seed. The full NCAA Tournament bracket will be released at 6 P.M. tomorrow.

Going home empty-handed, Creighton will rue its missed shots from three, as well as the clinching plays from Villanova’s graduate guard.

“Sometimes, good offense beats good defense,” McDermott said. 

However, the final result was even simpler on Saturday.

Creighton just got Gillespied.