NEW YORK (AP) — As Collin Gillespie waited to spin the souvenir net from the top of a ladder he couldn’t have climbed a year ago, he was spotted by another former Villanova star who knows how to win a championship game in moments. crucial.
Kris Jenkins joked that maybe it was the No. 2 uniform shared between him and Gillespie that made the Wildcats so fearless when the score was on the line. Or maybe it’s just the Wildcat Way forged under coach Jay Wright of shaking off nerves, bad shots, stifling defense, whatever distraction got in his way, to always hit the next big shot and win the next big game.
“I mean, that’s what we expect,” Jenkins said.
Gillespie missed the Big East Tournament a season ago and then won it for the Wildcats this year.
It is what they expect.
Gillespie hit back-to-back 3-pointers late in the game that put No. 8 Villanova ahead for good, and the Wildcats beat Creighton 54-48 to win the Big East Tournament championship Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
“That’s why I came back,” he said as he held up his Most Outstanding Player of the tournament trophy.
Gillespie missed both postseason tournaments in 2021 with a torn ligament in his left knee. But a year later he was brave in the closing minutes, hitting the go-ahead 3-pointer over 7-foot-1 center Ryan Kalkbrenner’s outstretched arm with 2:44 left.
The 6-foot-3 senior then grabbed a rebound at the other end and came back and drained another jumper over Kalkbrenner, the Big East Defensive Player of the Year, for a 50-45 lead, sending to the Wildcats on their way to yet another championship under Wright.
“It still surprises me a little bit when he makes those plays,” Wright said. ”Is incredible. But we put it in his hands to make those plays.”
Villanova won the Big East Tournament with Wright in 2015, and then three in a row between 2017 and 2019. The school also captured national championships in 2016 and 2018 with Wright.
The 2016 victory, of course, was one of the most famous title games in history as Jenkins hit a 3 at the buzzer to win it. Jenkins and his 2016 teammate Ryan Arcidiacono cheered on the Wildcats at The Garden. Arcidiacono flashed the V sign while taking a selfie with Jenkins as confetti fluttered around them.
Justin Moore and the rest of the Villanova starters surrounded Gillespie and cheered him on before he walked to the free throw line in the closing seconds. The two-time conference player of the year hit them both and was soon mobbed by his teammates at half court to kick off the championship party.
They then watched Gillespie take his turn with the scissors cutting through the net.
“He’s just playing without any fear because he knows he’s put in the effort,” Wright said.
Gillespie, who underwent knee surgery during last season’s Big East Tournament and watched postseason games from the stands, led the second-seeded Wildcats (26-7) with 17 points and Moore had 16 in a night where points were hard to come by until the very end. furious final minutes.
Kalkbrenner scored 19, but the fourth-seeded Bluejays (22-11) again left MSG empty-handed. Creighton has lost in all four trips to the Big East championship game, including 2014, 2017 and last season to Georgetown.
The winner would come down to whichever team could make a few shots in a row after a dismal start to the game. The Bluejays got going first when Alex O’Connell hit a 3-pointer for a 41-39 lead and waved his arms to cheer on the fans on the court. Kalkbrenner dove in and let out a guttural cry as he ran toward midfield and was mobbed by his teammates.
Gillespie, a fifth-year student, was the one who rescued the Wildcats.
“It’s really all I can think about, how grateful I am to be with these guys again,” he said.
It became clear with every clang why Creighton can’t win the big one in New York. The Bluejays missed all 13 of their 3-point attempts in the first half. O’Connell was the worst offender; he went 0 for 5. And the 3 was only in the name of Trey Alexander: he missed three. Creighton even missed two of his four free throw attempts.
These were not the same Bluejays who outscored top seed Providence 31-2 in about 10 1/2 minutes during a 27-point loss the night before in the semifinals. Creighton shot 32% from 3-point range this season. That percentage, any percentage above 0, would have given the Bluejays the lead at halftime.
”We just had a night where no one could do one. And we still had a chance to win,” coach Greg McDermott said.
Villanova missed 11 of 13 three-pointers and only led 19-18, not a misprint, at halftime.
The Bluejays, voted eighth in last year’s Sweet 16 starterless Big East preseason poll, missed 26 of 29 3-pointers. The Wildcats managed just 8 of 32.
But one player hit the only two that anyone will remember.
“In the end we have Gillespied,” McDermott said.
Creighton: The Bluejays became the first team to lose four straight Big East championship games.
“This is the fourth time we’ve sat here talking to you guys after one of these championship game losses, and that’s hard to swallow,” McDermott said. “But I am very proud of this group because of how much it has grown.”
Villanova: The Wildcats are tough in tournament play and played in their 11th Big East final. They have won six, second only to Georgetown (8) and UConn (7).
Rati Andronikashvili from Creighton, a native of Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, covered her back with a Ukrainian flag during the national anthem.
UNTIL NEXT TIME
Selection Sunday. The Wildcats hope they don’t have to leave the state, with possible first- and second-round games in Pittsburgh and then the East Regional in Philadelphia. Creighton could be a No. 8 or No. 9 seed.
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