New York, NY – New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - After capturing their first Big East Tournament title in 20 years, the Villanova Wildcats may soon be on the way to another gratifying reward.
Dylan Ennis led a sharp offensive display with 16 points and the fourth-ranked Wildcats shined on the defensive end as well in an impressive 69-52 victory over Xavier that had Villanova cutting down the nets at Madison Square Garden for the first time since 1995.
Villanova (32-2) was in control for nearly the entire night in rolling to a school-record 15th consecutive win, one that most likely sealed a No. 1 regional seed when the NCAA Tournament brackets are announced Sunday.
Josh Hart added 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting to lock down tournament MVP honors, while Darrun Hilliard hit a trio of 3-pointers in a 12-point effort for a Wildcats squad that hit on 50 percent of its field goal attempts.
Conversely, the sixth-seeded Musketeers appeared to have little left in the tank after reaching Saturday's final on a pair of hard-fought narrow decisions over Butler and Georgetown over the previous two days.
Xavier (21-13) was held to a 2-of-15 rate from beyond the arc and shot just 37.9 percent overall while never seriously threatening Villanova after falling behind by double digits late in the first half.
Dee Davis and Jalen Reynolds paced the Musketeers with 13 points each.
A focused Villanova team opened up an early 13-6 lead after burying three straight shots over a 49-second span, then closed the first half with a flourish to put Xavier in a hole it never could get out of.
Consecutive layups by Myles Davis and Reynolds had the Musketeers down just 17-14 with 7 1/2 minutes left in the period, but Villanova responded by hitting its next four shots -- including 3-pointers from Hilliard and Phil Booth -- during a 10-0 run that stretched the margin to double digits.
Hart drained a triple shortly afterward, and the Wildcats were up by 16 before an Remy Abell trey with 40 seconds left cut Xavier's deficit to 34-21 at the break.
Villanova hit at a 52 percent clip from the field in the first half and remained red-hot after the intermission, with Hilliard and Ryan Arcidiacono sinking 3-pointers during an 8-0 spurt that increased the lead to 42-21 just over two minutes into the second.
Xavier scored the next six points and later got within 54-41 on Dee Davis' 3- point play with just over 10 minutes remaining. However, Ennis knocked down a trey on the other end to start a 7-0 run that put any comeback hopes squarely to rest.
Villanova was appearing in its first Big East Tournament final since losing to Boston College in 1997, and captured its lone other title two years earlier by defeating Connecticut ... Hart, the Big East Sixth Man of the Year, averaged 17.7 points while shooting 72.4 percent from the floor in the Wildcats' three tournament wins. The sophomore is the first player to win MVP honors coming off the bench ... Xavier played without freshman guard J.P. Macura due to an ankle injury sustained in Friday's win over Georgetown ... The Musketeers, expected to make the NCAA field for the ninth time in 10 years, had won four of their last five tournament finals coming in. All came during their tenure in the Atlantic 10.