By Sean Kennedy
Villanova 77, Xavier 70
It’s official: the Wildcats are the first-ever regular season champions of the new Big East conference, earning the title for the first time since 1981. Despite a late Xavier 9-1 run that cut the lead to 4 in the final minute, Villanova hung on for their 5th-straight victory and secure first-place in the conference. Coming off a career-high 26 points against Marquette, Darrun Hilliard had another strong performance with a team-high 19 points on 6-10 shooting. James Bell added 12 points and 8 rebounds, as the senior reached 1,000 career points in the second half, joining a group of less than 50 players in school history to reach that mark. The Wildcats finish the regular season Saturday against Georgetown, and while they already have the 1-seed in the conference tournament locked up, every game will count toward overall seeding in the Big Dance.
George Mason 59, La Salle 57
After he hit the game-winner at the buzzer last game against Fordham, the Explorers once again turned to Tyreek Duren with the game on the line. Unfortunately for La Salle fans, there was no senior night for Duren, as his three-point attempt was off the mark, and the Explorers have assured themselves a sub-.500 A-10 record on the season. The Explorers struggled from the field all game, shooting just 34% on the night, as Duren himself went just 4-16. Tyrone Garland was marginally better at 5-14, and led La Salle with 16 points, also hitting a shot during La Salle’s second-to-last possession to give his team a brief lead. Another of the few bright spots for the team was Sam Mills reaching 1,000 points on his career, as he contributed 12 points and 4 steals. The Explorers will look to put this loss in the rear view mirror when they finish out the regular season this weekend against Big 5 city rival St. Joes.
7:00 PM: Pennsylvania (7-18, 4-7 Ivy) @ Columbia (18-11, 7-5 Ivy)
While I like how the Ivy League makes it so every regular season game matters, the downside is toward the end of the season when both teams are playing out the string. That’s the case here with Penn traveling to Columbia to take on a Lions squad that was eliminated from postseason contention with a loss to first-place Harvard last weekend. The Quakers slayed the Lions last month behind 23 points and 12 rebounds from senior forward Fran Dougherty. For Columbia, third-leading scorer Grant Mullins has missed the last four games with a concussion. However, with Alex Rosenberg and Maodo Lo both shooting better than 43% from three to lead the team in scoring, the Lions should still have enough firepower to earn some payback against the Quakers.