After holding serve with a 1-point victory over the Xavier Musketeers on January 3rd, the Villanova Wildcats traveled to Cincinnati for the pair’s Big East rematch last night and the visitors came up short in their bid to break (-serve) by a measly three-ball; 53-56. Predictably, the Wildcats got off to a dismal start on the offensive end; scoring just 2 points and earning themselves an 8-point deficit in the game’s opening 6 minutes & 17 seconds (2-10). By some miracle, the Wildcats were able to turn the tide before halftime; bringing w/ them a two-point advantage as both teams made their way to the locker room (28-26).
Not unlike the ‘Nova sharpshooter’s first crack at the 2023-‘24 Musketeers over a month ago, Brendan Hausen entered the ‘Cats’ rematch with the Ohioans on a mission to make it rain from three-point territory; dropping 15 points including 3 made-three’s after a 12-point effort in the ‘Cats win earlier this year. However, there’s a strong possibility that the sophomore shooting guard is (still) kicking himself for not making both of his free throws in the game’s final 45 seconds. With his team trailing by a deuce and only 45 seconds left to play, Hausen arrived at the foul line after the young Texan was fouled in the process of securing a monstrous defensive rebound that prompted Xavier’s Dailyn Swain to commit the foul. Even though the lights-out shooter was 3-for-3 from the charity stripe in Cincinnati and 4-for-4 once he tickled the twine with his first free-throw in the game’s final 45 seconds, Hausen came to the foul line in that pivotal moment with just 8 free-throw attempts to his credit for the entire 2023-‘24 season and we mustn’t forget he had never been under that kind of pressure.
As Hausen prepared for his second foul shot with 45 seconds remaining & (what was about to be) his fifth of the evening, Fox Sports 1 showed a timely graphic of Hausen’s 8-for-9 free-throw shooting numbers for the current season, and whether you believe in the announcer’s curse or not is irrelevant in the sense that the 6-foot 4-inch guard proceeded to miss the game-tying foul-shot anyway. Yes, Hausen probably isn’t pleased with himself for missing one of those 2 free throws and not being able to tie the game. That said, the young guard had his most impressive (made-) field goal of the night with 72 seconds remaining to the tune of a sweet-finish, off-the-glass (/layup) that came in-the-paint & amongst the trees to trim Xavier’s lead down to 2 points (54-52). Before Hausen was able to catch the ball and finish thru-traffic, Mark Armstrong was dribbling it around the foul line and once he saw Hausen cutting back door he rewarded his teammate’s willingness to make himself available with a quality, back-door bounce pass that Hausen made the most of.
Following Hausen’s game-tying miss at the foul-line, Xavier’s Desmond Claude rebounded the basketball and advanced it to the other side of the half-court before his team signaled for a time-out with 37 seconds left. Trailing by a single point with 37 seconds remaining, the away team knew they needed to get a stop on the defensive end. Regardless of how much time came off the game clock, ‘Nova knew a strong defensive stand that was (also) capped off by a huge rebound in that situation would be enough to ensure themselves an opportunity to steal a road victory without overtime.
Unfortunately, the game didn’t play out that way once ‘Nova’s Justin Moore over-helped his teammate by fouling the already occupied Xavier ball-handler, Quincy Olivari, on his path to the basket with under 10 seconds remaining on the shot clock & precisely 18 seconds left in the game. Olivari, who dropped 43 points in the Musketeers’ 25-point victory over DePaul on February 3rd, was unsurprisingly Xavier’s top-scorer in its win against Villanova and nobody was shocked to see the 83 percent free-throw shooter calmly drain both of his foul shots to give his team a 3-point lead with 18 seconds left. Still, the ‘Cats had a chance to tie the game after that.
Fittingly enough, the ‘Cats’ offense in the game’s final (18-) seconds was utterly pathetic; failing to even attempt a shot before time expired. Unfairly putting the onus upon one of their non-ball-handlers, Eric Dixon, to make something out of nothing in the game’s final 4-or-5 seconds, Dixon was handed the ball on the right side of the court and a few feet behind the 3-point line as the Xavier-defense surrounded him with multiple defenders.
Under duress, Dixon needed the awareness of a true ball-handler (/guard) in that moment, and the ‘Nova power-forward never geared his focus toward the basket and ended up unloading a jump pass to one of his teammates as time ran out. Before Dixon found himself in that precarious spot during the game’s closing seconds, Mark Armstrong and Brendan Hausen were the only two players besides Dixon who touched the ball in the final 18 seconds. Tasked with bringing the basketball up the court, Armstrong did so without any major issues but wasn’t able to get his team organized quickly enough. After a lot of dribbling from Armstrong, the sophomore speedster was able to find Hausen with a chest pass once the young shooter came off of a screen that was set for him off the ball & on the perimeter. Locked in to the proper game plan, Xavier’s defense was immediately on top of Hausen when he caught the ball. Unable to free himself up for a three-point shot, Hausen had no choice but to dump the ball off to Dixon.
Oddly, Kyle Neptune decided to give the ball to Armstrong instead of Justin Moore at the end of the game. I don’t know about you, but I trust Justin Moore in a “gotta have it” situation much more than Mark Armstrong. Sadly, Armstrong’s “feel” for the game is nothing to write home about and the sophomore guard is a walking-brick from three-point territory. Even though Moore had himself a rough night in Cincinnati, Armstrong’s wasn’t much better and Moore is a better shooter than Armstrong is. From a distance, it’s safe to say Villanova has a bad offense if their “go-to” scorers are Eric Dixon and Brendan Hausen. In all fairness to Dixon, he’s been the ‘Cats' best player all season; but he’s not a guard who has shot-creation skills/ability. As for Hausen, the Amarillo native is a money shooter; but he has yet to develop a strong scoring game off the dribble. In other words, ‘Nova’s top two options on offense are a couple of guys who aren’t known for being able to create their shot. That’s not good.
Bad offenses make bad plays. Down-3 against Xavier, the Wildcats had EIGHTEEN seconds to get up a shot; and they couldn’t do it.
That’s as bad as bad gets.