It was a sellout crowd at New York City’s Madison Square Garden Saturday night. The packed arena awaited an exciting Big East title game between the reigning NCAA champion Villanova Wildcats and the Creighton Blue Jays.
The fans had every reason to look forward to the game. Up to that point, the tournament had not disappointed; three of the top four teams had lost in their first games. (Things started off with a bang as seventh-seeded Xavier knocked off second-seeded Butler.)
But one team refused to be upset. The defending national champions won all three of their games in the tournament, including a convincing 74–60 victory in the title game over Creighton—and won their third Big East championship in the school’s history.
Villanova had the lead for almost the whole game. The fight on the glass was fierce. Players were jumping up and fighting for rebounds more aggressively than in any other game in the tournament.
It paid off for both teams, who had nearly equal rebounding totals. (Villanova had a slight edge, 34–33.) Turnovers were virtually the same as well (the Wildcats again had a slight edge, 15–17), and Creighton actually had more bench points (16–7).
So where did the game go wrong for Creighton? Points off of turnovers. Villanova dominated the plays following turnovers, quickly driving up the court and capitalizing on mistakes.
“Pressure on the ball was really important,” said Villanova coach Jay Wright. “And I thought we did a great job of it.”
Blue Jays coach Doug McDermott also mentioned the turnovers, and points allowed off of them. “But our mistakes that allowed the baskets for them, that was 11-to-zip points off turnovers and ended up 21–7—and we lose by those 14 points.”
Every time it seemed that Creighton went on a run, Villanova bounced right back. The Blue Jays hit a very difficult three-point shot with eight minutes to go that brought Creighton to within 12 as the team started to get desperate.
On the following play, Villanova’s Jalen Brunson hit a three, which was a dagger to the heart of the Creighton fan base.
Another big part of why the game tipped Villanova’s way was because of the amazing performance by Big East Player of the Year Josh Hart. When Wright discussed the win, he said, “It was [Josh’s] leadership, it was his decision-making, his defense, his rebounding.”
Creighton freshman Justin Patton, who was a big part of the Blue Jays’ tournament run, fouled out of the game and significantly lightened the load on Villanova’s big men down the stretch. At the end of the game, Creighton began to foul, and the Wildcats hardly missed their shots from the line.
It was an outstanding tournament, with many shocking games throughout. In the end however, the heavily-favored Wildcats cut down the nets.
Photograph by Mike Stobe/Getty Images