OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Creighton’s physical defense left Villanova reeling, but the fourth-ranked Wildcats managed to get out of CenturyLink Center with their hopes for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament still intact.
Ryan Arcidiacono converted a three-point play to give Villanova the lead in the last minute and came up with the game’s final rebound, allowing the Wildcats to win their 11th straight game, 76-72 on Tuesday night.
“That,” Arcidiacono said, “was one of our guttiest performances of the year.”
Austin Chatman’s 3-pointer had pulled the Bluejays within 74-72 with 6 seconds left, and they got the ball back after Arcidiacono ran into Chatman as Villanova tried to inbound.
Will Artino missed what would have been the tying layup, and Arcidiacono grabbed the ball and got fouled. As Arcidiacono shot the last free throws, what had been a juiced crowd of 16,337 began to quietly head for the exits.
“When we get into a game like that, nothing rattles us because we’re here for our brothers and here for our coaches,” said Dylan Ennis, who matched his career high with 19 points. “It was a great atmosphere. That shouldn’t affect us at all. If the gym were empty we’d still play the same way — hard, smart and together and with pride.”
With a No. 1 NCAA seed in its sights, Villanova couldn’t afford a slip-up against the Big East’s ninth-place team. The regular-season champion Wildcats ended up getting more than they bargained for from an opponent motivated to play spoiler.
Arcidiacono finished with 23 points for the Wildcats (28-2, 15-2), who trailed by nine points in the first half as Creighton played a tight defense that neutralized Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston.
“We didn’t have our players prepared for them to get up in us and be physical and stay with our guys everywhere,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said.
Chatman scored 21 points to lead the Bluejays (13-17, 4-13), who lost for the seventh time when leading in the final minute.
“It’s really hard to have your team compete and fight and continue to believe in each other the way this group has, and not crumble from within, and not have them rewarded for that effort,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “That’s what bothers me the most. We fought our tails off. We exerted a lot of energy the first half. It was arguably our best defensive half of the year.”
Creighton held the Wildcats to 29 percent shooting in the half. Hillard, limited to 19 minutes because of foul trouble, finished with seven points and Pinkston had one.
Still, the Wildcats were within a point at halftime and ahead by 11 in the middle of the second half. But with Chatman, Rick Kreklow and James Milliken combining for nine of their team’s 10 3-pointers, Creighton was never out of it.
The Bluejays were up 67-66 before Arcidiacono drove for a layup, got fouled by Chatman and made the free throw with 49 seconds left. Villanova got the ball right back when Devin Brooks dribbled the ball out of bounds on the other end.
Villanova hit 5 of 6 free throws in the last 26.4 seconds before Creighton made things interesting at the end.
McDermott said he had no qualms with the 7-foot Artino driving to the basket for what would have been the tying layup on Creighton’s last possession.
“We had him going with his left hand, and he’s one of our career leaders in field-goal percentage,” McDermott said. “He got it to the rim and just missed it.”
Villanova: The Wildcats started their 11-game win streak with a 71-50 victory over Creighton in Philadelphia on Jan. 25. … The Wildcats were 6 of 22 on 3-pointers after making at least 11 in each of their previous five games.
Creighton: Creighton lost for the first time in 28 games when scoring 70 points or more. … The Bluejays have lost six straight against Top 25 opponents since a 65-63 victory at home over Oklahoma in November. … Creighton is 7-55 all-time against opponents ranked in the top 10.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
“They just made it an ugly game, and we had to be willing to play ugly and gut it out, and we did.” — Villanova coach Jay Wright.
Villanova: hosts St. John’s on Saturday.
Creighton: hosts Xavier on Saturday.
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