Collin Gillespie returned just two weeks ago from an injury similar to what has sidelined starting guard Phil Booth for Villanova. So he has had to adjust to more responsibility in a hurry as the team's sixth man.
The freshman continued to emerge Thursday night as a key contributor for the top-ranked Wildcats in their 98-78 Big East victory over Creighton at the Wells Fargo Center, sparking a 15-0 first-half run that gave his team control of the game.
The Wildcats (21-1, 8-1 Big East), who placed five players in double figures led by Mikal Bridges' 21 points, tied a program record with 19 three-point baskets while Booth again watched from the bench with a broken bone in his right hand.
Gillespie, in his fifth game since missing eight contests with a broken bone in his left wrist, established season highs for minutes (23) and assists (five) while scoring eight points. For coach Jay Wright, however, it's all about the Archbishop Wood product's play on defense, which one highlight being an offensive foul he drew on the Bluejays' Marcus Foster.
"Against a team like that, you need more perimeter guys that you need bigs, so his play tonight was going to be really important," the Villanova coach said. "I thought that when he came in in the first half, he really sparked us."
"I think the charge, he got people shots. They're really intelligent offensively, they get mismatches they want and they try to go at him. He defended his man really well and that really inspired our guys."
The 6-foot-2 Gillespie brings the energy coming off the bench in the same way that Donte DiVincenzo, who now starts, did in that role.
"I think it's the same as when I came off as the seventh or eighth man, just coming and bringing energy for our team," Gillespie said. "That's my role on the team – come in, give energy and do all the little things for our team. Now that Donte is in the starting lineup, it doesn't really change."
The Wildcats were locked in an 18-18 tie at the nine-minute mark before Jalen Brunson sparked a quick 7-0 spurt with a backdoor layup and three-point basket. Creighton (17-6, 7-4) scored the next two baskets before 'Nova really threw its offense into high gear.
Gillespie began the run with a three-point basket and drew a charge on Foster at the other end. He later set up Omari Spellman for a three-pointer, and his pass to Brunson in the right corner resulted in a four-point play, giving 'Nova a 40-22 lead with 5 minutes, 14 seconds left in the half.
"You think you're there and then they go on an a spurt, and you're fighting an uphill battle the rest of the night," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said.
Villanova led 49-34 at the half and the Bluejays never got closer than 13 the rest of the way. The Wildcats lead reached as high as 27, 86-59, after back-to-back threes by DiVincenzo.
Brunson finished with 19 points for the Wildcats and DiVincenzo contributed 17. But Gillespie played a big supporting role.