By Harvey Hoffman
Eric Dixon drained a career-high 31 points and Cam Whitmore 17 as Villanova defeated No. 19 Creighton 79-67.
Dixon also set a career high with six 3-pointers for Villanova (15-14, 9-9 Big East), which has won five of six.
Arthur Kaluma scored 19 points and Ryan Kalkbrenner had 18 for Creighton (18-11, 12-6). The Bluejays have lost three of four following an eight-game winning streak.
“We ran into a buzz saw today,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said.
“Villanova was able to turn our defense inside out with Dixon’s ability to stretch the floor.”
The Wildcats have been the beast of the Big East, but not this season without Hall of Fame coach Jay Wright, who retired after last season.
Now, first-year head coach Kyle Neptune has the Wildcats playing the kind of basketball that led them to seven of the last nine conference regular-season titles, five Big East Tournament titles over that span and national championships in 2016 and 2018.
Villanova again looks like a team that no one wants to play in March.
“We just had to grow as a team,” Neptune said. “Thank God our guys have continued to get better and better. Our goal is always to be the best team we can be by the end. Hopefully we can reach that goal.”
The Wildcats have been playing better since the return of Justin Moore from injury. The senior guard had eight points and eight assists in his ninth game back after tearing his Achilles tendon.
“You can see it coming as you watch them on film since Justin has returned,” McDermott said. “You can see growth every game. Frankly, I was afraid of this. Unfortunately, I was right.”
Dixon’s two free throws gave Villanova a 46-29 lead 2:57 into the second half to match the Wildcats’ biggest lead of the game. Creighton chipped away at the deficit and got within 52-45 with 12:37 remaining on Kalkbrenner’s two free throws.
But then Dixon hit a 3 from the left baseline and then 3-point play on a drive and free throw to push the lead back to 58-45 with 11:18 to play.
Creighton couldn’t recover. Whitmore put an exclamation point on the victory with a driving, one-handed jam with 2:47 remaining.