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CINCINNATI (AP) — Xavier's raucous home court almost made up for the absence of the Musketeers' starting center against No. 6 Villanova.
Almost, but not quite.
Spurred by a standing-room only crowd of 10,340 at Cintas Center, Xavier needed just 64 seconds to cut a 12-point lead to three, but the Wildcats got two free throws each from Josh Hart and James Bell in the final 19.4 seconds to escape with a 77-70 victory Thursday night.
The Wildcats, playing for the first time in the arena, got 19 points from Darrun Hilliard to clinch their first outright Big East championship in 32 years in what Villanova coach Jay Wright described as a "great, intense college basketball environment."
"You're not going to win championships unless you win on the road," Wright said. "We have great respect for this league. To win this league is a hell of an accomplishment."
Justin Martin had 20 points for Xavier (20-11, 10-8 Big East) while Semaj Christon added 18 points and Isaiah Philmore finished with 15. The Musketeers ended the regular season with consecutive losses.
The game was Xavier's first without 6-foot-10 junior center Matt Stainbrook, who started each of the Musketeers' previous 30 before straining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in their 71-62 loss at Seton Hall on Monday. Stainbrook watched the game from the bench wearing a tan suit and bow tie.
"Us not having Matt was tough, but I think we learned more about each other," Philmore said. "It didn't turn out the way we wanted it to, obviously, but we stuck together. It just wasn't enough. Sometimes, it's not always enough."
JayVaughn Pinkston had 15 points — eight in the last 3:20 — Bell finished with 12 and Ryan Arcidiacono chipped in 11 as the Wildcats (27-3, 15-2) extended their school record for regular-season wins with their fifth straight and 11th in their last 12 games. They also clinched the top seed in the Big East tournament, which is scheduled to start Wednesday at Madison Square Garden in New York.
"This is a big accomplishment," Bell said. "It's a testament to how hard we've worked, but we can't stop there."
The Wildcats had no surprises, Musketeers coach Chris Mack said.
"They were what we saw on film," he said. "This was our first game without Matt, so that was a little bit different, but we competed. We didn't quite have enough to beat Villanova."
Villanova last shared the title by earning a co-championship with Syracuse in 2005-06.
Xavier struggled from 3-point range finishing 6 of 23, while Villanova was 9 for 23.
The Musketeers' regular-season finale was their second consecutive home game against a Top 10 team and the second straight to attract a standing-room only crowd.
The Wildcats, who beat Xavier 81-58 on Feb. 3 for the Musketeers' worst loss of the season, never trailed after Arcidiacono made two free throws for a 29-28 lead with 5:11 left in the first half.
"We knew they wouldn't go away," Wright said. "They played without one of their best players. We caught a break there."
Hilliard, averaging 14.1 points per game, had 15 to help the Wildcats take a 41-36 halftime lead.
Martin, who went into the game averaging 11.2 points, scored 12 in the first half for Xavier.
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