NEWARK, N.J. — On Wednesday morning, Jalen Brunson was named a semifinalist for the Naismith College Player of the Year award. But for a large portion of Wednesday night's matchup with Seton Hall, Brunson didn't have the look of one of the 10 best players in the country.
In the first 36-plus minutes of action, the junior guard had just two points and zero assists, while missing eight of his nine shots from the field.
But in the game's late stages with the Wildcats needing him most, Brunson looked every bit of one of the nation's top players.
Mixing in clutch jumpers and free throws, Brunson scored 12 of his 14 points in the final eight-plus minutes of action to lead No. 4 Villanova to a 69-68 OT win over Seton Hall at the Prudential Center (see observations).
"That's the sign of a great player," head coach Jay Wright said. "He's not afraid to fail. He loves having the pressure on him and on his shoulders. That's what the great ones do. That was vintage Jalen Brunson. Just no fear of failure."
After a rough offensive performance from both sides in the first half, Villanova jumped out to an 11-point lead at 36-25 with over 12 minutes remaining and appeared well on its way to an easy win. But Seton Hall responded with a 14-2 run of its own to get itself right back in the game.
With the Wildcats holding a one-point advantage with under four minutes remaining and Seton Hall refusing to back down, Brunson began cooking.
Brunson would trade a trio of clutch buckets (one layup and two jumpers) with the Pirates over the next couple minutes of play, giving Villanova a 50-49 lead with 1:05 remaining.
"Honestly, the shots [just] went in," Brunson said. "Just lucky that those shots were going in. I kept my confidence and kept my cool."
While Brunson missed a key front end of a one-and-one with 23 seconds remaining, which was followed by Khadeen Carrington splitting a pair of free throws to send the game into OT, the 'Nova guard carried his hot shooting into the overtime period, hitting back-to-back jumpers to give Villanova a five-point lead with 35 seconds left.
Then, with 'Nova up one and six seconds on the clock, Brunson returned to the free throw line and drilled both attempts this time around.
After struggling all night, Brunson made five of his final six shot attempts and two gigantic free throws to lead Villanova past Seton Hall.
"My teammates have the confidence in me at all times," Brunson said. "So does my coach and so do I. I just try to keep the same cool and not really worry about what happened in the past. Just keep moving on."
"He's a big-time player," said Mikal Bridges, who poured in a team-high 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, "[With] him, it's all attitude. He missed a lot of shots, but still had that free mind where, like, 'Who cares? It's my next shot. I'm gonna take that next shot anyway.' Proud of him. He made big buckets and played real good on defense."
With the win, Villanova avoided a second straight loss and kept itself alive for the top seed in the Big East Tournament heading into the final weekend of the regular season. And while it certainly wasn't pretty — Villanova shot at a 36.4 percent clip and connected on just 8 of its 36 threes — Brunson and the Wildcats believe Wednesday night's offensive struggle will better prepare them for the upcoming postseason play.
"Beleive it or not, I would rather not have played the game like that, but we needed to play in a game like that," Wright said. "Where we just couldn't make shots and our defense kept us in it."
"This is a great game, a great defensive game for us. Something we really needed," Brunson added. "For us to struggle like that offensively and still stick together is something we definitely needed. We just gotta keep building off that."