Villanova vs. Xavier: Score, Highlights and Reaction from 2016 Regular Season

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Villanova vs. Xavier: Score, Highlights and Reaction from 2016 Regular Season
John Minchillo/Associated Press

Xavier is no longer a dangerous mid-major basketball program from the Atlantic 10. Instead, it is a national title contender in the Big East. 

The No. 5 Musketeers made their case Wednesday to anyone overlooking them across the country with a convincing 90-83 victory over No. 1 Villanova. Thanks to harmless baskets from the Wildcats in the closing minute, the final score was even closer than a game Xavier led, 82-67, with only 2:13 remaining.

Wednesday's clash was the biggest contest of the season in the Big East between two teams that could both find themselves on the No. 1-seed line come Selection Sunday. The 13-2 Wildcats are now only one game ahead of the 13-3 Musketeers in the loss column of the conference standings.

What's more, the two teams split their two regular-season matchups and could be in store for a rubber match in the Big East tournament.

Nicole Auerbach of USA Today reacted to the entertaining contest:  

Brad Evans of Yahoo Sports believes in Xavier's resume, especially after Wednesday's victory:

Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo Sports noted the Musketeers have not had much success against Villanova since joining the Big East (and losing 95-64 the first time around this season), which likely made Wednesday's win that much sweeter:

Edmond Sumner led the way for Xavier with 19 points, nine assists and six rebounds and consistently created problems for the Wildcats defense thanks to his ability to penetrate the lane and split defenders. ESPN's Dana O'Neil commented on Sumner's night:

Xavier also received 19 points off the bench from J.P. Macura and 16 points and six assists from Myles Davis. Kris Jenkins spearheaded the effort for Villanova with 22 points, but he also fouled out in the second half as the Musketeers were starting to pull away. 

Despite the loss, Villanova jumped out to an early lead before Xavier electrified the crowd with a first-half run to take a 28-24 advantage. Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports praised the Musketeers defense during the spurt:

Shannon Russell of the Cincinnati Enquirer pointed to that defense's ability to contain Ryan Arcidiacono:

Xavier also used some offense from Macura on the way to a 40-37 halftime lead. Macura scored 13 points in the opening 20 minutes and drilled two three-pointers, including this one, per FS1:

Matt Norlander of CBS Sports was enthralled by the marksman's first half:

Xavier maintained its lead in the opening minutes of the second half thanks to impressive plays like this from Sumner, via FS1:

Forde commented on the flow of the game at the under-16-minute timeout:

Forde foreshadowed a Xavier run, and the Musketeers extended their advantage to 59-50 with 14:30 remaining. By that point, Daniel Ochefu and Jenkins both had four fouls for Villanova. Eisenberg realized it was danger time for the nation's No. 1 team:

Xavier led, 65-55, at the under-12-minute timeout thanks to the bench and its transition play on both ends. Russell put the dominance into statistical perspective:

Things took a dire turn for Villanova when Jenkins fouled out with 22 points. Reid Forgrave of FoxSports.com reacted to the blow to the Wildcats:

Brian Snow of Scout.com called Jenkins' decision-making into question:

Xavier controlled the middle portion of the second half with Jenkins no longer a threat and took a 79-65 lead into the under-four-minute timeout with plays like this, via FS1:

Xavier's offense was doing what few teams had done to Villanova all season, as Adam Amin of ESPN shared:

Villanova couldn't keep up with that overpowering Xavier offense throughout the game. While a three-pointer from Jalen Brunson closed the gap to seven with 36 seconds remaining, the Wildcats never truly threatened in the final minutes.

The Musketeers iced the 90-83 victory at the free-throw line and picked up one of the most important wins of the entire college basketball season.

What's Next?

Xavier still needs Villanova to lose one more time if it hopes to clinch at least a share of the regular-season Big East crown, but it can secure a favorable seed in the NCAA tournament if it parlays the momentum from Wednesday into a strong finish.

The Musketeers close with games at Seton Hall and against Creighton. While neither opponent is ranked, Xavier can ill afford to overlook either of them because the Pirates hung tough in the Cintas Center and lost by eight on Jan. 23, and the Bluejays actually beat Xavier on Feb. 9.

As for Villanova, it still controls its own destiny for the top seed in the Big East tournament, which would likely be enough to earn a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance even with Wednesday's loss. It has three games remaining against Marquette, DePaul and Georgetown.

The Wildcats already beat all three opponents once this season, and only the Hoyas came within single digits. However, that five-point win was at Georgetown on Jan. 16, and Villanova gets its old Big East nemesis at home to end the season. 

Three straight wins to close the campaign would go a long way toward erasing Wednesday's loss in the eyes of the selection committee. 

Postgame Reaction

Jeremy Rauch of Fox 19 in Cincinnati shared footage of the celebration after the win:

Xavier coach Chris Mack addressed why the fans didn’t storm the floor, per Forgrave: “Chris Mack says if XU was 14-14, fans might have stormed court. ‘My two daughters did, so maybe they’re out of line. I should ground them.’”

Mack commented on Macura’s performance and said, per Rick Broering of Scout.com, “He played fearless. He played absolutely fearless. He's never afraid of the big moment.”

Davis said, per Broering, “We know we're capable of competing with anyone in the country.”

Villanova coach Jay Wright wasn’t surprised by Xavier’s performance at home, per Elise Jesse of WLWT in Cincinnati: “That's what we expect from Xavier.”

Wright at least found a silver lining, per Jeff Wallner of the Sports Xchange/Reuters: “I never want to lose. But I'd rather lose to a good Big East team. I'm glad No. 1 and No. 5 was two Big East teams.”

If Villanova and Xavier continue to play like they have all season during the stretch run, the entire country better get used to two Big East teams residing in the Top Five.

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