Villanova has won two of the past three national championships, so if a team is planning to take out the Wildcats in a postseason game, it has to make sure to finish the deal. Xavier came close in Friday’s Big East Tournament semifinal but couldn’t quite pull it off.
The Musketeers, who had won seven of eight entering the game, beat down Villanova with their interior play and the scoring of Paul Scruggs for most of the contest. They led by seven with less than five minutes to play, but that’s when top-seeded and 25th-ranked Villanova found a way to get away.
Jermaine Samuels made a pair of three-pointers to ignite the sellout crowd and Eric Paschall tipped in Phil Booth’s miss with seven seconds left to tie the score and force overtime. Booth and Paschall, the two senior leaders, each scored five in the extra period and Villanova prevailed, 71-67, before 19,812 at the Garden.
Villanova (24-9) reached the Big East championship game for the fifth year in a row and 10th time overall. The Wildcats will be seeking their fourth title in five years and fifth overall in Saturday’s 6:35 p.m. final against Seton Hall, which held on for an 81-79 win over Marquette in Friday night’s late semifinal.
The Wildcats lost four starters from the 2018 national champions but did not lose the late-game poise, thanks in part to the return of Booth — who also was on the 2016 champion —and Paschall. “Just leadership from two great seniors who have done it their whole careers, their whole lives,” coach Jay Wright said. “We’re just really lucky to have these two.”
“We’ve been in close games throughout the season,” said Booth, who had 28 points and five assists. “We stay together.”
Samuels scored 17 points, including four three-pointers, and Paschall had 12 points and seven rebounds for the Wildcats.
For Xavier (18-15), Scruggs set a school record for tournament scoring with 28 points and 6-11 Zach Hankins had 18 points and three blocked shots.
Wright said that with the Villanova offense stifled, “we just put it in Phil’s hands and told him to just make decisions.”
Attempting to tie the score, Booth drove down the right side of the lane when his shot came off.
“The bench was yelling at me, ‘Offensive glass,’ ” Paschall said. “I saw Booth drive. I was on the weak side . . . and the ball was there.”
“Those are two tremendous seniors,” Xavier coach Travis Steele said. “It starts with their leadership. You can tell on the floor — they’re winners.”
Hankins hit a jumper on the opening possession of OT, but Booth scored on a drive and drew a foul. He missed the free throw, but the Wildcats got two offensive rebounds to extend the possession and ended it when Paschall sank a three-pointer from the wing for a 63-60 edge, their first lead since 15-12.
Paschall hit two free throws with 3.1 seconds remaining to ice the win.