The ‘Cats stay perfect against No. 10 Creighton



David Jarman

In the battle of undefeated teams, #1 Villanova Wildcats extend their winning streak to 20 straight games by taking down No. 10 Creighton 80-70 in their second game of Big East play. For a game that had nine lead changes and five ties, entertaining is an understatement for how this game played out. Sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson had a career high 27 points, including five threes. Over his short tenure at Villanova, he has learned a lot from his former and current teammates, including playing alongside Ryan Arcidiacono last season and Josh Hart, who is arguably the best player in the country as of now.  

“It feels great,” Brunson said after his performance today, “but I got to give credit to my coaches and teammates. They do a great job of giving me confidence. Josh [Hart] this year has given me confidence, being able to knock down shots.”

Hart had a double-double in today’s game, and contributed more in the second half. Despite scoring seven points in the first 20 minutes of today’s game, he finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Similar to the Wildcats’ Big East opener against DePaul, Hart scored late in the second half when it mattered most. His lay-up with four minutes left in the second half broke a six-minute scoring drought, which was crucial in the closing minutes of the game.    

Going into today’s game, head coach Jay Wright knew that it was going to be a tough test for the Wildcats, especially with Creighton’s hostile environment. “I say this every time we come here, but that was just a great atmosphere for college basketball,” Wright said. “Creighton is a fun team to scout and prepare for. They are so well coached.  You know you have to play so smart and so tough. They’re so tough, especially here [at home].”

In the first half, Villanova came out flat in the opening minutes. Six minutes into the first half, Villanova found themselves down 19-9, their largest deficit of the first half. Creighton junior guard Marcus Foster was able to attack the basket, scoring 12 points in the first half. Creighton was able to get other players involved, as senior forward Cole Huff scored 11 points, six of them threes. Guarding Huff was a matchup problem for the Wildcats because at 6’8, Huff was shooting just above 50 percent from three-point range on the season, as he was able to attack the stifling Wildcat defense in multiple ways. Freshman center Justin Patton was able to establish himself in the paint as well, scoring 10 first half points.

Once Villanova was down 10, Kris Jenkins and Jalen Brunson decided to take over. Jenkins made a jumper to cut the Creighton lead to 19-11 and Brunson scored eight straight points to lead the Wildcats on an 8-0 run with 9:30 to play. The sophomore point guard from Lincolnshire, Illinois lead all Villanova players with 16 points in the first half, including two big threes in that 8-0 run. After Creighton went on their own 8-0 run with two minutes left in the first half, Josh Hart, Jalen Brunson, and Kris Jenkins hit each hit a tri-fecta, as Villanova hit back-to-back-to-back three’s to close the first half with a 42-41 lead. Though the first half was played at Creighton’s pace, the Wildcats had confidence going into the locker room with the lead at halftime.

“It was big,” Brunson said of Villanova’s first half finish. “We made a couple stops in the last minute and we just made shots.”

Coming into the second half, both teams would trade baskets, as there were five lead changes in the first five minutes—Villanova having the edge on the scoreboard, 51-50. With about 14 minutes left in the second half, Villanova was playing like the top-ranked team in the country by moving the ball effectively on offense and scoring in multiple ways, establishing a seven-point lead over the 10th-ranked Blue Jays.

With a high-powered offense, head coach Greg McDermott knew that his team had fight left in them. Lead by senior point guard and Philadelphia native Maurice Watson Jr.,the Blue Jays were able to get the ball to their playmakers and attacking Villanova’s defense. Marcus Foster was able to drive to the basket and finish lay-ups in the paint. He would finish with a team high 22 points, his 13th of 14 games with 15 or more points. Patton, who finished with 18 points, continued to score on the block and had a momentum-changing alley-oop that cut the Villanova lead to five with nine and a half minutes to play. For a team that is known for shooting the three-ball, Creighton outscored Villanova in the paint 36-28.

After the Jays tied the game at 63 with just under eight minutes to play, both teams were ice cold from the field for three minutes until Kris Jenkins used his vital pump-fake to get fouled while shooting behind the arc. His three made free throws added to his 21 points, and came at a crucial time because of the long scoring drought the Wildcats had in the second half. After Creighton senior guard Isaiah Zierdon hit a deep three to tie the game at 66, Villanova went on a 14-4 run to secure an 80-70 win and move to 14-0 on the season, their best start in school history. With their winning streak, it seems that every team is giving their best shot against the Wildcats—and it doesn’t get easier now that Big East play has started. Throughout the season, especially on the road, Villanova knows they need to play solid basketball for 40 minutes.

“We know against the best teams it’s about being solid and playing Villanova basketball,” Josh Hart siad. “We knew that when they tied it we had to come closer together. We stuck to playing Villanova Basketball”.

The Wildcats will enjoy the fireworks tonight, as they remain the number one team in the country. When the calendar flips over to 2017, they will finish their road trip by traveling to Indianapolis, Indiana to take on No. 13 Butler on Wednesday. Tip off is set for 6:30pm on Fox Sports 1.