Villanova downs top-ranked Xavier in Big East opener



Larry Flynn

Ryan Arcidiacono has been playing within the Villanova system for the last two seasons. He’s led the NCAA in assist-to-turnover ratio. He’s managed the prolific offense and stingy defense of the 2015 Big East Champions.

He’s always given the game what it needs.

With the Wildcats slowly fading from national attention, trickling down to 16 in the polls, searching for an “Alpha-Dog,” Arcidiacono gave Villanova the go-to scoring threat they needed.

Arcidiacono scored 27 points, including a scorching career high 7-14 shooting from beyond the arc, to propel the Wildcats to a 95-64 win over the #6-ranked Xavier Musketeers.

“Our guys have great respect for Xavier and came out fired up,” Coach Jay Wright said. “That was the best game we’ve played this year.”

Despite struggling with their three-point shot early in the season, Villanova finally regained its stroke from downtown. Led by Arcidiacono, the Wildcats shot 13-25 (52%) from three-point territory and 63% from inside the arc. Arcidiacono hit seven three-pointers, tying a career-high, including back-to-back threes as part of a 19-5 run which opened up the Wildcats’ huge lead.

The turning point of this game came in the first three minutes. Xavier’s talented freshman point guard Edmond Sumner fell and hit the floor hard after attempting a fast-break layup. Sumner was carted out of the Pavilion on a stretcher and taken to a hospital, where he is walking and talking, according to Coach Chris Mack.

Following a standing ovation from the Villanova fans and players, the Musketeers struggled to find offense without their top playmaker. Xavier recorded 10 turnovers in the first 10 minutes of the game, while the Wildcats found their groove and connected on six of eight three-point attempts.

Arcidiacono’s initial three-point barrage allowed his teammates to get open looks from beyond the arc. The Musketeers played a 1-3-1 zone over the stretch, and collapsed two or three players on Arcidiacono whenever he stepped into shooting range. As a result, the Wildcats made the extra pass and found wide open teammates.

Phil Booth, who started over an ill Jalen Brunson, added two three-pointers from long-range during this first-half run. Kris Jenkins, who had been battling a knee sprain, found his groove in the first half en route to 13 points and 2-3 shooting from deep.

The Wildcats’ three-point barrage was due in part to a concerted effort to feed the ball to Daniel Ochefu in the post. Villanova’s star big man not only finished with a double-double, but also with five assists to guards along the perimeter.

The Wildcats began to slow the game down to end the first half, allowing Xavier to bring itself within 15 points by halftime. To open the second half, however, the Wildcats turned to another veteran leader to regain offensive momentum.

Josh Hart, scoreless in the first half, scored 15 straight points on a perfect 6-6 shooting in the first five minutes of the second half. With this final scoring burst from Hart, the Wildcats never looked back, cruising to their 11th win of the season.

Villanova is starting to click at just the right time; they will travel to the hostile Century Link Center in Omaha to take on Creighton in their second Big East conference game of the season.

It will be up to the senior leadership of Arcidiacono and Ochefu to, yet again, give the Wildcats the boost that they need. If the past is a predictor of the future, the Wildcats are putting their trust in the right hands.