Villanova wins, advances to the Sweet 16 in San Antonio

Collin Gillespie scored 20 points, and Eric Dixon drained a clutch 3-pointer in the final two minutes on Sunday to help the Villanova Wildcats turn back the Ohio State Buckeyes, 71-61, in an NCAA tournament game at Pittsburgh.

With the victory, the second-seeded Wildcats (28-7) will move into the South region Sweet 16 at San Antonio’s AT&T Center on Thursday.

They’ll play the No. 11 seed Michigan Wolverines (19-14) in a game that will feature an almost entirely different cast of players and coaches from the same programs that met in the 2018 NCAA title game at the Alamodome.

In April of 2018, Villanova won its second national title with a 79-62 victory over Michigan.

From that game, Villanova coach Jay Wright will return to the Alamo City, as will fifth-year seniors Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree. As a freshman, Gillespie scored four points off the bench in the championship clincher.

Asked after the Ohio State game about playing Michigan again in San Antonio, Gillespie shrugged off the coincidence.

“I didn’t think about that,” Gillespie said. “We’re just happy to be moving on. We’re taking it one day at a time. We’re just having a growth mindset.

“We want to go back this week, watch the film. We can get a lot better from it. There’s a lot of things we can do to get better this week and prepare for Michigan.”

Apparently, all of Michigan’s players who played in the 2018 championship meeting have moved on. In addition, the Wolverines are under the direction of a new staff led by head coach Juwan Howard.

“We know how great of a team they are and the difficulties they present,” Gillespie said. “Our coach is going to put together a great scouting report. But I didn’t think about that (playing Michigan again, in San Antonio).”

Added Samuels, “I didn’t think about it until you brought it up, but that team is very battle tested, they’ve been through a lot all year, and they’re going to be ready to go. It’s cool it’s in San Antonio but great to be in the Sweet 16.”

The Buckeyes entered the Round of 32 game coming off a dominant defensive performance in a 54-41 victory over Loyola-Chicago. Villanova nearly matched Loyola’s production in the first half as it surged to a 39-28 lead.

Methodically, the Wildcats built the lead in the second half to as much as 15 points. But the Buckeyes rallied, and a 3-pointer by Jamari Wheeler made it a two-point game with 5:39 to play. At that point, the Wildcats held firm.

With the clock winding down, Gillespie backed a defender down and pitched outside to Dixon, who hit a 3-pointer with 1:38 remaining to increase Villanova’s lead to eight. Ohio State never got closer than six the rest of the way.

“That’s something we work on all the time,” Gillespie said of the key play. “They were playing Justin (Moore) pretty tight on that side, and their big was in the lane. Eric was wide open, and I have tons of confidence in him to step in and knock any shot down that he’s going to take.”

Dixon, a 6-8, 255-pound forward, has attempted only 31 three-pointers this season. He has made 16 of them.