For a brief second, it looked like Xavier would hand Villanova its second loss. The Musketeers ran out to an eight-point lead in the first half and looked unstoppable on the offensive end.
Then the well went dry. Xavier never recovered.
Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart each scored 20 points, as third-ranked Villanova overcame a rough start for a dominant 79-54 win over No. 15 Xavier.
Down eight with 7:25 remaining in the first half, Villanova went on a 15-2 run and did not trail in the game's final 23 minutes. The Wildcats stretched their lead to as many as 29 points and shot 53.8 from the floor. Forty-five of their points came in a second half where they nearly doubled up Xavier.
Jenkins knocked down four shots from three-point range, and Jay Wright's team dished out 19 assists in a solid team effort. Kevin Cooney of Calkins Media commented on Jenkins having his groove back:
Kevin Cooney @KevinCooney
Kris Jenkins had a stretch of bad games... the past two games, he's been huge. Now with 18 as Villanova goes up 152017-1-11 01:36:04
The senior forward has scored 43 points and hit 10 threes over his last two games, following a stretch of cold play at the end of nonconference play and the beginning of Villanova's Big East schedule. He went on a seven-game stretch where he failed to make half of his field goals and scored below his season average in all but one of those contests.
Hart's 20 points came on 7-of-16 shooting, though he really didn't get things going until Villanova built an insurmountable lead. He missed on five of his seven three-point attempts but still helped break things open with his playmaking. The senior guard finished with five assists to go along with his six rebounds; it's just the second time all season he's dished five or more dimes in consecutive games.
Sean Kane of CSN Philadelphia was complimentary of his performance:
Sean Kane @SKaneCSN
Josh Hart reminding everyone he's the best player in the Big East, and it's not particularly close.2017-1-11 01:52:02
Jalen Brunson (11 points), Darryl Reynolds (10 points) and Donte DiVincenzo (10 points) were also in double figures. Brunson added six assists, and DiVincenzo had four boards and three dimes. The team's Twitter feed was impressed with DiVincenzo:
Villanova MBB @NovaMBB
DiVincenzo has given the Cats a great lift tonight - now has 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field. #NOVAvsXAVIER2017-1-11 01:49:08
Xavier, meanwhile, fell almost completely apart after its stellar start. The Musketeers scored 24 points in the first 12:35. They scored 30 in the remaining 27:25, a concerning number given the game's quick pace. Xavier finished shooting 29.3 percent from the floor, including a 6-of-32 mark from beyond the arc.
Leading scorers Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner shot a combined 5-of-25 from the field. Bluiett missed on eight of his 10 shots, nine of which came from beyond the arc. Sumner scored a team-high 11 points on 15 shots. ESPN.com's Dana O'Neil commented on their struggles:
Dana O'Neil @ESPNDanaOneil
Sumner and Bluiett are a combined 3 for 20. Xavier can't win a lot of games that way. https://t.co/sVBTaXsDuZ2017-1-11 01:40:57
J.P. Macura (10 points) was the only other Xavier player in double figures. The Musketeers bench came through with only 13 points, with Kaiser Gates and Myles Davis combining for a 2-of-12 outing.
Villanova has won back-to-back games by double figures since its upset loss to Butler. With four straight games coming against unranked opponents, it's possible the Wildcats can run that streak to six wins heading into their matchup with Virginia on Jan. 29.
Xavier will have a tough test as it looks to avoid losing two straight, traveling to 12th-ranked Butler on Saturday.
Wright spoke to reporters about Jenkins' improvement after the national championship game: "I've been amazed, actually. He's humble. He wants to get better."
Wright continued, saying of Jenkins: "He has bailed us out a lot over his career."
Jenkins echoed those thoughts: "The thing I have to live up to is the pressure and commitment to my teammates."
He also discussed his recent shooting improvement: "Every shot feels the same to me. I think it's good."
Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter.