After a 71-61 victory over Ohio State, Villanova is back in Sweet 16

Collin Gillespie spotted Eric Dixon from the corner of his eyes and sent him a cross-court pass, which doubled as permission for it to fly.

After a 71-61 victory over Ohio State, Villanova is back in Sweet 16

Dixon was able to score the largest shot of his team's campaign, sending the Wildcats back home against familiar opponents on familiar ground.

Villanova won 71-61 over seventh-seeded Ohio State with 1:38 left. Dixon's 3-pointer on the wing gave Villanova breathing room. The Wildcats (28-7), returned to San Antonio to face Michigan (19-14) at the South Regional semifinal.

Gillespie was a freshman in Villanova's team that beat the Wolverines to win the national title four years ago. He's now the Big East Player of Year twice and the undisputed leader of a group that appears to thrive on Gillespie’s "follow me” vibe. This is evident in the last moments.

Gillespie was able to back into the post, and the Wildcats led 64-59. The Buckeyes double-teamed him, allowing Dixon to be 6-foot-8. Gillespie had other options.

It didn't matter that he gave it to a player who had only 28 3-point attempts for the season. It was a smart move. Gillespie made it. It's what Gillespie does.

Dixon was buoyed by Gillespie's faith and caught the ball. He then shot the shot.

Wright, Villanova coach, said that he believes they have the confidence to shoot it if Collin is giving it.

Gillespie ended with 20 points, four assists and a steal. He also had a rebound and one turnover. Dixon's 3-pointer scored him 13 points and eight rebound as the Wildcats held off a second-half push by the Buckeyes (20-12), which reduced a 15 point deficit to two before Villanova got back on its feet.

"They were hitting shots after shots for a while, so we just stuck together, came together on defense, told each other, Let's get the next stop, let’s get the next stop', and then tried to make the next play.

When it was crucial, the Wildcats made all of their right shots. After Jamari wheeler's 3-pointer brought Ohio State within 60-58, the Buckeyes were down two shots short.

They came no closer. Jermaine Samuels made a layup, and Gillespie made a pull-up jumper. Dixon then delivered the knockout punch.

E.J., Ohio State's star, said that they owe credit to "Villanova", because they worked hard. Liddell stated. "I thought that we played hard, but we need to be more careful with the ball."

Liddell was able to score 17 points and grab six rebounds in what will be his last game with the Buckeyes, before he moves on to the NBA. Malachi Branham, the Big Ten Freshman-of-the Year and who may be playing alongside Liddell in pro basketball, scored 15 of his 23 points in the second period.

The Buckeyes were unable to reach the second weekend of tournament for the first-time since 2013. Ohio State was not able to lead and had to play the final eight:55 without forward Kyle Young. Young was being evaluated after sustaining a head injury. Young was in the concussion protocol and missed several games.

Although the Buckeyes managed to keep the game close after he was gone, they couldn't overcome the loss and fell to 0-3 in round two under Chris Holtmann.

Holtmann stated, later adding that "Gotta keep getting there, gotta keep growing," and "You keep getting there, you get enough, you get to here consistently, and it will happen."

For the Wildcats, the second round was a major hurdle. But not anymore. Villanova is now dangerous after a disappointing regular season.

The Wildcats won their first two tournaments in Pittsburgh by double digits a week after winning the Big East Tournament Title. This was just like what they did in 2018, on their way to a national championship that culminated in a win over Michigan.

Samuels and Gillespie both stated that they hadn't considered the similarities between 2018 and 2022 until someone pointed it out to them. It's a completely different team from the one that won't be tested in its quest for a championship.

But, just like the other group, this one seems to be peaking under Gillespie.

Wright spoke of Gillespie, saying that he was "unexpected" to do so. We expected all of the intangibles he brings. We did not expect to be able go out and win games like he does.

Ohio State had no answers. Two days after a dominating win over Loyola Chicago the Buckeyes' swagger was gone against the more poised and polished Wildcats.

Wright stated, "When Ohio State makes the run, if it's your first time, and know you can handle it, this is what happens when great teams play each other, and it's something that's happened before, and you're able to fight through it. If you haven’t done it before, it can be hard, panic can set in." Wright said, "But all these guys are there."

It's Villanova.


 

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