Villanova rules supreme over Big East, beats Creighton for tournament title

March 11, 2017 - 3:26 pm

Ask the Friars. Turnovers can hurt a team's chances to win a game, about as quickly as a pickpocket can take your wallet on a New York subway. Ten first half turnovers for Creighton got the ball rolling in Villanova's direction – not that the defending national champs needed any help – and the Wildcats connected on seven-of-16 three's in the 1st half as well to put a relatively early end to any BlueJays' hopes for a Big East title. Instead, the regular-season champ Cats dumped Creighton 74-60 to win their 3rd ever post-season Big East title, and put themselves in a good position to defend their national championship with a possible #1 overall seed for next week's NCAA Tournament. 34 of Nova's 36 1st half points (they led 36-22 at halftime) were scored by the Wildcats' tested triumvirate of (Josh) Hart, (Jalen) Brunson and (Kris) Jenkins, with the two seniors Hart and Jenkins connecting on 5-of-10 from three. Meanwhile, Creighton – known for its' shooting prowess during the regular season – couldn't connect as they usually do. A mere 2-for-12 (16 percent) from deep helped put the BlueJays in an early hole, one they ultimately could not climb out from. The 10 turnovers also led to an 11-0 Villanova scoring advantage off the mistakes. Villanova's lead grew to as large as 20 (46-26) in the opening five minutes of the second half, before a methodical charge back by Creighton pulled the Jays within 12 (54-42) on a Cole Huff three just before the under eight-minute time out. The margin was still 12 with 3:34 to play, when the Big East Freshman of the Year, Creighton's 7-foot center Justin Patton, picked up his fourth foul. The Wildcats then forced Patton into his 5th foul less than a half-minute later with Hart, the Big East Player of the Year, attacking the Jays' middle and ultimately sealing Creighton's fate. Hart led Villanova with 29 points, and was named the Dave Gavitt Big East Tournament MVP for the second time in three years. Brunson added 17 more for the Wildcats. Huff led Creighton with 13 points, and 1st team all-Big East guard Marcus Foster also scored 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting. The Jays tied a season high with 17 total turnovers. "We just had to set a tone," Hart said. "Seton Hall came out and punched us in the mouth yesterday (Friday). Accolades are nice, but all I care about is winning." BIG EAST NOTES Providence resident Michael Stephens, who refereed Villanova's national title win a year ago, was on the championship game officiating crew Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, along with James Breeding and Pat Driscoll. Attendance was strong for the nine games played from Wednesday through Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, with the Friday semifinal doubleheader and championship game listed as sell outs. Both sessions on Quarterfinal Thursday had crowds of more than 16,000 (MSG seats 19,800 for basketball), and the Wednesday night first-round double-header also grabbed an announced crowd of 14,830. The championship game was the second time a #1 seed met the #6 in the title match up. In 2009, No. 1 Louisville defeated No. 6 Syracuse for 76-66 for the crown. This year was Creighton's second appearance playing for the title, making the BlueJays also 2-0 in Big East semifinals. Bryce Cotton-led Providence defeated Creighton-led Doug McDermott 65-58 in 2014's championship. In defeating Xavier Friday night, the Jays shot 72 percent from the floor in the second half, and hit 7-of-9 from three-point range to beat the Musketeers. Perhaps speaking to the league's overall parity, Big East teams trailing at the half won five of the nine tournament games. The leading team won three times, and there was one tie. Saturday night was Villanova's eighth appearance in the title game, and their 3rd tournament title (1995, 2015). To beat Villanova, teams this season have defended the three-point line well against the Wildcats. In each of their three losses this season, Villanova was 6-for-24 or worse from the outside stripe – even though the Cats shot a mere 5-of-19 from three in their semifinal win against Seton Hall. The Wildcats finished 9-for-26 against Creighton, while the Jays finished 6-of-24. Creighton has been one of the best overall shooting teams in the nation this year, continuing a trend of solid shooting and scoring even after point guard Maurice Watson went down two months ago with an ACL injury. The BlueJays came into the tournament leading the league in scoring (82.8 ppg) and field goal percentage at 51.1 percent from the floor, which placed them 3rd nationally. Creighton was also 2nd in the Big East in three-point shooting (behind Marquette) at better than 40 percent from deep. At this stage, it would be an upset if the Big East didn't place seven teams in the NCAA's next week. At 70 percent of the total league membership (7 out of 10), no conference has ever placed a higher percentage of its' teams into the tournament. The Big East put an astounding 11 league members into the NCAA's in 2011 (when there were 16 teams), and the ACC is expected to send at least nine (of their 15) into the Big Dance this year. Villanova will attempt to become just the sixth team since the NCAA field was expanded to 64 teams in 1985 to win both a conference tournament title, and the national championship. The last to do it? Louisville, in 2013. Selection Sunday for the 2017 NCAA Tournament begins at 5:30 p.m. ET Sunday on CBS.