CINCINNATI (AP) — Darrun Hilliard scored 19 points and No. 6 Villanova clinched the outright Big East championship for the first time in 32 years by holding off undermanned Xavier 77-70 on Thursday night.
JayVaughn Pinkston added 15 points — eight in the last 3:20 — James Bell finished with 12 and Ryan Arcidiacono chipped in with 11 as the Wildcats (27-3, 15-2 Big East) extended their school record for regular-season wins with their fifth straight and 11th in their last 12 games.
The Wildcats went into the night with a 1 1-2 game lead over No. 13 Creighton in the Big East and two games remaining. The Bluejays have one game to play.
Villanova, which last won the title alone in 1981-82, is scheduled to wrap up its regular season Saturday at home against Georgetown.
Justin Martin had 20 points for Xavier (20-11, 10-8) while Semaj Christon added 18 points and Isaiah Philmore finished with 15. The Musketeers ended the regular season with consecutive losses.
Xavier struggled from 3-point range finishing 6 of 23, while Villanova was 9 for 23.
The game was Xavier’s first without 6-foot-10 junior center Matt Stainbrook, who started each of the Musketeers’ previous 30 before straining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in their 71-62 loss at Seton Hall on Monday. Stainbrook watched the game from the bench wearing a tan suit and bow tie.
Xavier’s regular-season finale was its second consecutive home game against a Top 10 team and the second straight to attract a standing-room only crowd, this one drawing 10,340 to the 10,250-seat Cintas Center.
The Wildcats never trailed after Arcidiacono made two free throws for a 29-28 lead with 5:11 left in the first half. Villanova, which beat Xavier 81-58 on Feb. 3 for the Musketeers’ worst loss of the season, led by as many as 12 points. The lead dwindled to three before Josh Hart and Bell made two free throws each in the final 19.4 seconds.
Hilliard, averaging 14.1 points per game, had 15 to help the Wildcats take a 41-36 halftime lead.
Martin, who went into the game averaging 11.2 points, scored 12 in the first half for Xavier.
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