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Villanova finally returns to action and picks up a win

Villanova served up an impressive reminder that it is still the team to beat in the Big East Conference.

Playing for the first time in 27 days, the Wildcats quickly shook off any rust from the long layoff and scored a 76-74 win over a strong Seton Hall team at Finneran Pavilion on Tuesday.

The Wildcats, picked to win the Big East in the league's preseason poll, last played on Dec. 23.

They endured two COVID-19 related pauses separated by just one day. Coach Jay Wright tested positive around Christmas. Then the day after returning to practice on Jan. 3, more positive tests within the program sent them to the sidelines again.

Here's what Wright said about Tuesday's win in a story on the school's website: "I didn't have any expectations. I just wanted to see what happened. There was some good news, some bad. It's great to get a win. I'm happy for our guys. Seton Hall is a very good team. I'm happy that we survived."

Villanova's lack of practice time in recent weeks didn't seem to impact its conditioning. Four players saw at least 35 minutes of action.

Senior Collin Gillespie scored 22 points while playing 39 minutes. Senior Jermaine Samuels finished with 20 points and nine rebounds in 31 minutes. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl chipped in eight points in 38 minutes and fellow sophomore Justin Moore had 10 points in 35 minutes.

Samuels just returned to practice on Monday.

"He literally practiced one day," Wright said. "Had COVID and couldn't practice until (Monday). To come out and be able to play like that is truly incredible."

During their lengthy shutdown, the Wildcats remained in the top five in the Associated Press Poll and in first place in the Big East standings. They're ranked No. 3 and stand at 9-1 overall, 4-0 in the league.

Prior to returning to action Tuesday, Wright talked about what his team has gone through.

"These guys impress me so much with their resilience," said Wright on the school's website. "One of the things we have learned going through this quarantine is that the day the positive tests hit you, and you know what's coming, those days are just devastating. Sitting alone in your room is horrifying, it really is.

"As you get toward the end of that, everyone gets so excited. The day you get back on the court is like the first day of practice for the season. Everyone is so excited."

The challenges are far from over for the Wildcats, who will face a busy schedule with the postponed games that need to be made up. They've played a league-low four conference games.

Of course, Villanova isn't the only Big East team dealing with COVID-19 pause related challenges. Georgetown and Xavier are the latest programs to shut down.

Seton Hall hadn't played in 10 days before losing to Villanova. The Pirates had their game against Xavier on Jan. 16 postponed due to Xavier's issues.

Behind the scenes, Big East coaches are on the edge of their seats almost on a regular basis waiting to receive test results.

"It just puts you in a practice by practice, game by game, almost minute by minute mindset with this," said UConn coach Dan Hurley whose team has had two pauses. "You're just trying to win the next game, you're just trying to have a great practice, you're just hoping that you get a text message instead of a phone call. Usually the text messages mean all negative and a phone call means there's a problem with a likely pause or an opponent.

"We're not looking too far down the line here with anything."

Big East upset

Butler pulled off the upset of the season so far in the Big East on Saturday, rallying to stun No. 8 Creighton, 70-66, in overtime at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

The Bulldogs trailed by 13 with about seven and a half minutes left in regulation. It is their first win over a top eight opponent since knocking off No. 1 Villanova in December 2017.

"We shot 37 percent and still found a way to win this game," coach LaVall Jordan said in a story on the Butler website. "Sometimes it's just heart and effort. I loved our battle and our resiliency. When we were down 13, I told them this was a gut check moment."

Freshman Myles Tate helped fuel the comeback, finishing with 15 points and 10 rebounds to record his first double-double.

Creighton played its second straight game without star guard Marcus Zegarowski who's sidelined with a hamstring injury. He returned to the lineup Wednesday against Providence.

Quote of the week

St. John's freshman guard Posh Alexander on upsetting No. 23 UConn on Monday:

"It felt good at the moment. I personally feel like we can beat every team in the country and now we are coming together a little bit more."

Alexander finished with 18 points, six assists, four rebounds and three steals.

NCAA's NET rankings

As of Wednesday, here's where the Big East teams stood in the NCAA's NET rankings: Villanova, No. 8; Creighton, No. 20; Xavier, No. 39; UConn, No. 42; Seton Hall, No. 51; Marquette, No. 68; Providence, No. 80; St. John's, No. 96; Butler, No. 133; Georgetown, No. 146; DePaul, No. 196.

News and notes

The average margin of victory in the last five games between Villanova and Seton Hall is just 3.2 points. .... Providence was trying to avoid its first four-game losing streak in eight years when it visited Creighton Wednesday night. ... Butler earned its first road win of the season on Tuesday, beating DePaul, 67-53. ... So far, eight different players have earned Big East player of the week honors in the first eight weeks. Marquette's Dawson Garcia has won the league's freshman of the week award three times, two more than any other player. ... Heart attack specials: Marquette is a Big East best 5-1 in games decided by five points or less or in overtime. ... Through Tuesday's action, Big East home teams are 20-15. .... DePaul filled a hole in the schedule after seeing its Big East game against Georgetown scheduled for Jan. 13 postponed by playing non-conference foe Valparaiso on Saturday, winning 77-58. ... Individual leaders overall: St. John's Julian Champagnie, scoring, 20.0 pts; Georgetown's Jamorko Pickett, rebounding, 8.7; Xavier's Paul Scruggs, assists, 6.3; St. John's Posh Alexander, steals, 2.5; Seton Hall's Ike Obiagu, blocks, 2.8. ...  Upcoming game of the week: Villanova hosts Providence Saturday.


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