Villanova looked lost on offense in the opening stages of its game Tuesday night against 15th-ranked Xavier. Missed shots, bad passes, little movement, all combined to concern the sellout crowd at the Pavilion.
But the No. 3 Wildcats found the key to turning the night around on the defensive end and that, combined with poor shooting by the Musketeers, made the game a one-sided affair, a 79-54 win and a program record-tying 46th consecutive victory at their on-campus facility.
Villanova (16-1, 4-1 Big East) trailed by eight points midway through the first half but limited the Musketeers (13-3, 3-1) to one field goal in their last 15 shots in taking a 34-28 lead. The Cats found their offense in the second half, connecting on 15 of their first 20 shots to extend their margin to as many as 29 points.
"We did not start the game with energy and they did," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "They came in ready to go and we were not. We got down and I think Kris [Jenkins] hit some shots early that kept us in it. About halfway through the first half, we got our defense going."
Wright credited reserves Donte DiVincenzo and Eric Paschall with a spark at the defensive end. DiVincenzo played a career-high 32 minutes and scored 10 points.
"Our focus is on defense and rebounding," said DiVincenzo, a 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman. "For me coming off the bench, I just wanted to bring energy, and if the shots weren't falling, just let it go and get back on defense."
Jenkins knocked down four of his team's eight three-pointers and scored 20 points to share team-high scoring honors with Josh Hart. Jalen Brunson added 11 points and six assists. The Wildcats shot 68 percent in the second half and 54 percent for the game after opening the contest 5 of 19.
The defense played a role in hounding Xavier's top two scorers, Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner, into bad shooting nights, below their averages of 17.7 and 15.6 points, respectively. The two combined to shoot 5 of 25 from the field, with Sumner scoring 11 points and Bluiett 10.
Sumner, who suffered a concussion early in last season's game at the Pavilion, appeared to injure his left shoulder in the first half but returned and played 35 minutes.
The Wildcats struggled early on offense. They went on a dry spell that lasted nearly 51/2 minutes of the first half while the Musketeers scored six straight points and took their largest lead of the period, 24-16, on two free throws by Bluiett with 7 minutes, 25 seconds left in the half.
But at that point, Xavier had begun a shooting drought that would be impossible to recover from, making one of its last 15. Twenty of its 28 first-half shots were from three-point range. The visitors would go on to shoot 26.7 percent in the second half and 29.3 percent for the game.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats took control with a 15-2 run in the closing stages of the period, with Jenkins and Hart each scoring five points. Villanova started strong in the second half, and after the Musketeers closed to within 52-42 with just under 12 minutes remaining, it put the game away.
A Jenkins three and a conventional three-point play by DiVicenzo was followed by an 8-0 run, extending the lead to 72-48 lead on Jenkins' two free throws with 5:54 to play.
"Every shot feels the same to me, I think it's good," said Jenkins, who went 5 of 10 from the field and 4 of 8 from three-point distance. "I've got to give credit to my teammates. They do a great job of finding me in the right spots. Most of my shots come from them so I thank them all the time."