NEW YORK — Villanova won the Big East Tournament for the first time in 20 years, turning back Xavier 69-52 on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
The No. 4 Wildcats’ only other Big East Tournament title was against former member Connecticut in 1995. Villanova (32-2), which also won the conference regular-season title at 16-2, is on a school-record 15-game winning streak heading into the NCAA Tournament.
Xavier (21-13), the sixth seed, was looking to knock off a ranked team for the third straight game in the tournament. The Musketeers defeated No. 22 Butler in the quarterfinals and No. 23 Georgetown in the semifinals. Xavier is 6-3 against ranked opponents this season.
Villanova took a commanding 61-41 lead with 7:00 to play on a layup from sophomore guard Josh Hart. Xavier never got closer than 13 points in the second half.
The Wildcats had few problems solving the Musketeers’ 1-3-1 zone. Villanova’s crisp passing around the perimeter resulted in 9-of-13 3-point shooting.
Guard Dylan Ennis paced Villanova with 16 points. Hart, the Big East’s Sixth Man of the Year, came off the bench to score 15 points. Hart led the Wildcats in scoring in two of the three tournament games.
Forward Jalen Reynolds and guard Dee Davis scored 13 points apiece for the Musketeers. Xavier’s top scorer and rebounder, center Matt Stainbrook, was held to four points and three rebounds.
Villanova started the second half with an 8-0 spurt to move its lead to 42-21. Gaurd Darrun Hilliard II and guard Ryan Arcidiacono hit 3-pointers in the run and Ennis scored on a layup.
Xavier was the best shooting team in the regular season in the Big East but made just 10 of 33 shots from the field in the first half and trailed Villanova 34-21. Hart came off the Villanova bench to contribute nine points.
Villanova controlled most of the early portion of the first half, but a layup from Stainbrook brought Xavier to within four at 14-10. That was the closest the Musketeers got as the Wildcats went on a 16-6 run to take a 30-16 advantage with 3:31 left.
Hilliard, who was kept quiet in the first two games of the tournament, erupted for eight points during the run.
NOTES: Xavier led the Big East in field goal percentage (.476) and assists (16 per game) during the regular season. … Xavier senior C Matt Stainbrook gave up his scholarship this season so his brother Tim, a sophomore forward, could have it. Matt Stainbrook is finishing up his MBA as a fifth-year student and his tuition is far cheaper than the undergraduate degree that his sophomore brother is pursuing. … The Musketeers were without freshman G J.P. Macura who injured his ankle in the semifinal win over Georgetown. … Villanova’s 63-61 win over Providence in the tournament semifinals was only its third game in its 14-game winning streak that wasn’t decided by double digits.
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