NEW YORK – Villanova found itself staring at a deficit for the longest time in Friday night’s Big East Tournament semifinal, and also at the possibility it would not get a chance to compete for a record third consecutive title in the event.
However, after trailing for more than 28 minutes, the Wildcats drew into a tie on Eric Paschall’s tip-in with 7.6 seconds to play in regulation and went on in overtime behind a combined 10 points from Paschall and Phil Booth to defeat Xavier, 71-67, before a roaring sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden.
The top seed Cats (24-9), who won their eighth straight tournament game, get their chance at Big East history Saturday night against No. 3 Seton Hall, which beat No. 2 Marquette Friday night. It will be their fifth consecutive appearance in the championship game.
Booth wound up with 28 points, repeatedly looking to make plays for his team in helping bring Villanova back. Jermaine Samuels added 17, including three three-point baskets in the final 2 minutes, 54 seconds of regulation and all of overtime.
“They were switching everything,” ‘Nova coach Jay Wright said. “We just put the ball in Phil’s hands, and it’s kind of embarrassing to say as a coach, we didn’t have any offense left. We just put it in Phil’s hands and told him to make decisions.”
“We’ve been in close games throughout the season,” said Booth, who added seven rebounds and five assists. “We’ve lost some, won some. We’ve been down the stretch in tough games. We just try to stay together, get another stop, don’t play the score, get another stop, and play like that.
“We didn’t even have the lead second half. I didn’t even know that. Just focus on the next possession, that’s all you can do.”
In overtime, Paschall’s three-point basket, his only one of the night, gave Villanova the lead for good, 63-60, with 4:06 to play. Samuels sank another three-ball that made it 68-62 at 2:22, but the game wasn’t decided until Paschall got the rebound of an intentionally missed free throw by Paul Scruggs and sank a pair of free throws with 3.1 seconds left.
Scruggs was excellent for Xavier (18-15) with 28 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.
Villanova fell behind 17-15 with 8:23 to play in the first half and trailed later in the half by 10. After closing to within two at 43-41, 45-43 and 55-53, the Wildcats had five shots to tie or take the lead and missed all of them, and it looked like they were about to go home a day early.
However, down 57-53, Samuels fired a three-point shot with 48.9 seconds left that hit the front rim and backboard before falling through the net. Zach Hankins sank one of two free throws at the 19.9-second mark but Booth’s tough layup attempt on the next trip resulted in Paschall’s game-tying tip.
Collin Gillespie assured the overtime period by drawing a charge on Xavier’s Naji Marshall with 1.6 seconds left, a call that drew howls from the Xavier bench who felt Gillespie slid into position while Marshall was in the air.
“I’m not going to comment on that,” Musketeers coach Travis Steele said. “I will tell you that was a huge, huge call, though.”
Marshall, whose 14.8-point average is his team’s best, managed just two points on 1-of-12 shooting and fouled out early in the OT.
The Wildcats earned a shot at becoming the first team to win three straight championships. For Paschall, though, it’s just the next game.
“We’re not even thinking about it,” he said. “We just try to get better every day. So I felt like we took a step in the right direction today, grinded a game out. We’ll come back and try to get better tomorrow as well.”