NEW YORK – Phil Booth scored 28 points and Jermaine Samuels drilled key 3-pointers late in regulation and during overtime to propel No. 25 Villanova to a 71-66 victory over Xavier in a Big East semifinal on Friday night at Madison Garden.
The top-seeded Wildcats (24-9) advanced to Saturday’s tournament championship game against the winner of Friday’s second semifinal between Marquette and Seton Hall.
Fourth-seeded Xavier (18-15) missed a pair of tying 3-point attempts in the final nine seconds, as the Wildcats earned their fifth successive trip to the conference tournament championship game.
Villanova rallied to overcome uneven shooting against the Musketeers. When Eric Paschall hit a 3 at the 4:06 mark of overtime to give the Wildcats a 63-60 lead, it marked the defending national champions’ first advantage since they were up 15-12 in the first half.
Samuels had 17 points and nine rebounds for Villanova. Paschall (12 points) and Saddiq Bey (10) also finished in double figures.
Paul Scruggs scored a career-high 28 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to complete a double-double for Xavier. Zach Hankins followed with 18 points and Quentin Goodin had eight assists.
Villanova trailed 55-48 with 4:41 left in the second half but kept pace during a see-saw stretch run. Samuels drew the Wildcats within 57-56 on a trey from the top of the key with 48 seconds left in regulation. Hankins split a pair of free throws with 19 seconds to go, but Paschall tied the score at 58 on a follow of a missed Booth layup with seven seconds left.
Referees whistled Xavier’s Naji Marshall for an offensive foul with 1.6 seconds remaining, but Marshall stole the ensuing inbounds pass as time expired, sending the game to overtime.
Xavier relied on length and physicality to limit Villanova to 11-for-26 shooting in the first half, including 4 of 14 from 3-point range. The Musketeers’ size and strength proved equally valuable on the offensive end, as they outscored the Wildcats 22-12 in the paint.
Scruggs scored 15 first-half points on 5-for-5 shooting, outpacing his counterpart, Booth, who had 13 points in the first 20 minutes. Xavier led 34-28 at the break behind 50 percent (14-for-28) shooting. The Musketeers led by as many as 10 in the first half, with Hankins converting a hook shot and alley-oop dunk on successive possessions to provide a 33-23 edge at the 2:34 mark.
The teams split the regular-season series. Villanova earned a 10-point home victory on Jan. 18 before Xavier responded with a 66-54 win on Feb. 24 in Cincinnati, turning the tide with a 17-0 second-half run.
–Field Level Media