Madison Square Garden –Collin Gillespie scored 17 points, all in the second half, to lead No. 8 Villanova to a 54-48 win over fourth-seeded Creighton in the championship game of the Big East Tournament on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
The Wildcats (26-8) won its first title since 2019 and their fifth Big East Championship title since the realignment in 2014. Creighton (22-11) fell to 0-4 in Big East Tournament title games.
Creighton started the game ice cold from in the opening few minutes of the game, going 2-for-10 from the field as Villanova scored the first seven points of the game and held a 10-5 advantage at the second media timeout. A 6-0 run started by freshman Arthur Kaluma and jumpers by Ryan Hawkins and Trey Alexander trim the Bluejay lead to one point 12-11 with 8:10 left in the first half.
The Wildcats stormed back with a trey by Brandon Slater and back-to-back scores by Eric Dixon to push Villanova’s lead to seven points at 19-12 with 4:55 remaining to the break. A rim rocker slam by Ryan Kalkbrenner and buckets by Alex O’ Connell and Kaluma cut the lead to one again, as Villanova took a 19-18 lead into halftime.
Villanova was led by Justin Moore with six points as the Wildcats shot 29.6 percent (8-of-27) from the hardwood in the first half. Also in the half, Villanova missed 11 of 13 3-pointers which kept Creighton in the contest.
“They were as good as I thought they were. Watching them on film you get caught up as a basketball old school purist in the way they play the game and the simplicity of what they do but how perfect the execution is. Creighton head coach Greg McDermontt said. We decided to try some zone to attempt to take away the three but against man to man they go to the free throw line, make layups, they put you in rotations, they keep making the same three-point shots that you get against the zone anyway.
“So, we tried to prevent some of that from occurring, which we did but they kept making jump shots and it was hard to stop. It is hard to imagine that they could be more of perfect offensive team than they were a year ago, but they are. Its like a video game with they’re offence. Its fun to watch, hard to prepare for and its difficult plan to stop.”
In the second half, Gillespie drained a jumper to open the second half as the Wildcats took a 21-18 lead, but O’Connell hit a three from the right elbow to tie at 21-21 with 18:45 left. The Bluejays took their first lead of the game at 23-22 on a layup by Kalkbrenner with 16:47 left in the contest, but it was short lived, the Wildcats took the lead right back and went on a 11-2 run to take a 33-25 lead with 12:19 left.
Back-to-back buckets by Kalkbrenner trimmed Villanova’s lead down to four at 33-29, before an and-1 by Samuels extended the lead back out to 36-29.
Trailing by seven with 10:02 remaining in the contest, a Kaluma bucket jumped started a 14-3 run by Creighton over the next five minutes of the game to take a 43-39 lead with 5:28 left. Alexander hit a three from the top of the key to knot the game up at 36, before a deep three by O’Connell and a layup. A monster dunk by Kalkbrenner forced the Wildcats to take a timeout.
Coming out of the break, The Wildcats sprinted off a 11-2 run that gave Villanova a 50-45 lead with 2:05 remaining in the contest. Gillespie contributed eight of his 17 second half points during the run. The Jays would trimmed the lead to two points at 50-48 on a pair of free throws by Alexander, but a bucket by Moore with 15.7 seconds left and a pair of free throws by Gillespie sealed the victory for Villanova.
“It was a great effort for our team tonight against an explosive offense in Creighton as they shot 49%. Our conference is so good offensively. You look at a team that shots 49% from the field, 39% from three and you think they did a really great job but it’s just how good they really are. We need to keep getting better defensively as I thought we rebounded well. Every game we have to play without Phil Booth and the three freshmen that play is going to help us down the road, so I was pleased with our three freshmen.” Villanova head coach said.
The Wilcats won the Big East Tournament under Wright in 2015, and then three straight from 2017-19. The school also captured national championships in 2016 and 2018 under Wright.
Kalkbrenner scored 19 for the Bluejays.
Creighton shot 0-for-13 from the three-point line in the first half, snapping a streak of 316 straight games with a first half triple that dated back to Jan. 23, 2013 at Drake. That was the difference in the game.
“This is our fourth time sitting up here talking to you after one of these losses in the championship game, and that’s tough to swallow,” McDermott said. “But I’m so proud of this group for how much they’ve grown.”
Creighton will now wait for the NCAA Tournament Selection Show, which airs on Sunday, March 13 at 5 p.m. Central on CBS.