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No. 18 Xavier meets Villanova, aims to win ninth straight

Dec 20, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Xavier Musketeers forward Zach Freemantle (32) grabs the rebound against the Seton Hall Pirates in the first half at Cintas Center. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

No. 18 Xavier will look for its ninth consecutive victory when it battles host Villanova in a Big East game on Saturday.

The Musketeers (12-3, 4-0) picked up their biggest win of the season on Saturday, 83-73 over then-No. 2 UConn.

Xavier has started Big East play with a 4-0 record for the first time since joining the conference for the 2013-14 season.

“I referenced it the other day in that I didn’t know if we were able to really finish a game of that magnitude back then,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said. “I do know we have it in us now. Even if today didn’t go our way, we’ve progressed and we’re a much better group than we were then.”

The balanced Musketeers received 16 points and 11 rebounds from Zach Freemantle, 16 points from Colby Jones, and 15 apiece from Jerome Hunter and Jack Nunge.

Xavier has been off since the victory, but that hasn’t diminished the magnitude of it.

“Number one it’s big because we’re playing in the Big East right now and UConn is at the top,” Miller said. “To have a chance to play them at home and be able to beat them is a big deal. I’m not gonna say it’s not a big deal. You beat what I think is one of the best teams in college basketball. Whatever seed line they’re on, they’re gonna be near the top. And for us to be able to have that win is a big deal for our team.”

The Wildcats, meanwhile, will look to capitalize on their momentum following a 73-57 road victory over Georgetown on Wednesday.

Villanova (8-7, 2-2) tightened defensively in the second half and outscored the Hoyas 38-22.

Caleb Daniels led the Wildcats with 20 points while Mark Armstrong and Brandon Slater added 14 apiece.

Like he has all season, Daniels elevated his level of play when Villanova needed it most.

“Caleb is a very experienced player at this level, obviously,” Villanova coach Kyle Neptune said. “Even more than scoring, his effort defensively and as a leader has been amazing for us this year. We know he can score. We’ve got a lot of talented guys that can score. When we defend this way, we can be really good.”

The news wasn’t all good, though.

Already playing without injured standout Justin Moore (Achilles), the Wildcats lost Jordan Longino to an undisclosed leg injury in the first half vs. Georgetown.

Longino’s status remains unclear.

“I don’t think it was anything too bad,” Neptune said. “We’ve got to go back and talk with the doctors.”

While the results haven’t been the same for Neptune as they were for recently retired Hall of Fame coach Jay Wright, the Wildcats’ effort and work ethic has never changed.

“I thought we just settled in and grinded in the second half,” Daniels said. “We trusted each other and shared the basketball. It wasn’t the first action … maybe it was the third or fourth that got us the bucket.”

–Field Level Media