Villanova Wildcats

Josh Hart overcomes late miscues to put Villanova in Big East Tournament title game

Josh Hart overcomes late miscues to put Villanova in Big East Tournament title game

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NEW YORK -- Tough to imagine a Josh Hart turnover in the final seconds of a tight Big East Conference tournament game against Seton Hall.

Now imagine it happening two years in a row.

Last year, Hart committed a costly turnover with 20 seconds left and Villanova leading Seton Hall by two in the Big East championship game. That turnover led to Isaiah Whitehead's game-winning basket and foul shot and Seton Hall's upset win over Villanova.

Even though Villanova roared to the NCAA title a month later, it's a play that haunted Hart.

"It does still," he said at his locker Friday night.

Fast forward to this year.

The opponent again was Seton Hall, and this time it was a semifinal game with 46 seconds left and Villanova trailing by a point.

And again the unthinkable.

Another Hart turnover.

And even in the heat of battle before a packed house at Madison Square Garden, Hart couldn't help think back to the turnover a year earlier.

"Oh, man," Hart said after Villanova had hung on for a 57-55 win in the Big East semifinals (see Instant Replay). "That came to my mind for a second. For a quick second I thought about that one."

It wasn't Hart's only gaffe in the final two minutes. On Villanova's previous possession, with 1:16 left and Villanova trailing by a point, he missed the front end of a one-and-one.

A very rare and very rough stretch for the national Player of the Year candidate.

"I'm a competitor and I missed that front end of that one-and-one down one," he said. "I'm like, 'Come on, Josh, you can't miss the front end of a one-and-one with two minutes left in the game down one. You can't do that."

Next possession? The turnover.

"Coach called a play," he said. "I was a little too aggressive. I should have passed it. Turned the ball over. 'Come on, Josh.' Two things that are uncharacteristic for me."

Villanova is a successful basketball team because it's very talented and very well-coached, but it's also a remarkably tight-knit group of kids that are unfailingly unselfish and team-oriented.

After his critical turnover, the four other Wildcats on the floor came over and encouraged Hart as Seton Hall prepared to inbound.

"Everybody came over and said, 'Attitude, let's get a stop,'" Hart said. "That's why this team … I think we're a good team but that's why I think we can get better. Times like that where you make what could be a costly mistake, everyone comes up to you and says, 'Next play, hey, let's get a stop.'

"I said, 'I'm right there with you, let's go.' And we came and we got some stops."

And Hart got redemption.

When Kris Jenkins' potential game-winning three from the left wing sailed long, Hart soared over Seton Hall's Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado and gave Villanova the lead with 9.6 seconds left.

Hart was fouled and made the free throw, and after Delgado into missing a game-winning attempt in the paint, Villanova had a dramatic win and for the third straight year a berth in the Big East title game.

The Wildcats will play Creighton at 5:30 p.m. Saturday in the championship game.  

"I knew it was hard," Hart said of Jenkins' miss. "Right when he shot it I said, 'Oh, that's off.' I knew he put a little bit too much mustard on it and it bounced perfectly. Half of that was luck."

Hart finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds as Villanova improved to 30-3 with its third win over Seton Hall this year. The first two were by 22 and 30 points.

"I got a good look and he was in a perfect position to follow it up," Jenkins said. "He's a great athlete. He's the best player in the country. Whether he gets the award or not, I don't care. He's by far the best player in the country. Nothing he does ever surprises me."

Jalen Brunson added 13 points for Villanova, and freshman Donte DiVincenzo had nine off the bench.

Villanova shot just 26 percent in the first half and fell behind by 11 points. The Wildcats shot 59 percent in the second half.

Really, this game was an instant replay of last year's. At least for the first 39 minutes and 50 seconds.

"Very similar," Hart said. "I think the last play, last year we did something very uncharacteristic and we learned from that. This year, we buckled down, we had our attention to detail the last couple possessions and we got stops."

Villanova, which scored a tournament-record 108 points in its 41-point win over St. John's on Thursday, made just five of 19 threes Friday and really had to scramble for every point it got.

Nothing came easy for the Wildcats.

"I'm glad we were able to be challenged like that," senior center Darryl Reynolds said. "It doesn't happen a lot, so you've got to be thankful for those challenges because they make you stronger. To pull through a game like this, it teaches you a lot about yourself and a lot about your team.

"It's just sticking together and making sure, 'Hey, let's not panic.' Are we mad that we're down? Of course. But let's not panic and lose our minds."

Villanova has been in enough big games to understand how to respond when trailing by double digits.

"We couldn't dwell on the past, we couldn't dwell on the mistakes we were making defensively, we definitely couldn't dwell on the shots we were missing," Brunson said.

"So we just thought about the next play and hopefully get better and keep fighting. As long as we're together, as long as we're fighting like that, we're going to be good. As long as we stick together."

Nobody kept fighting in the face of adversity more than Hart.

"Luckily my guys picked me up," Hart said. "We got some stops at the end and luckily we were able to gut out this one. A little bit different from last year. At least the ending was different."

Donte DiVincenzo latest Villanova player to declare for NBA draft

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USA Today Images

Donte DiVincenzo latest Villanova player to declare for NBA draft

Another Villanova star is moving on ... maybe.

Donte DiVincenzo has declared for the NBA draft but will not hire an agent, meaning he can test the draft waters but will maintain his college eligibility should he chose to return to school. 

The redshirt sophomore was voted the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player after scoring a career-high 31 points in Villanova' national title win over Michigan. 

“Donte has consistently improved in his time at Villanova through dedication and a commitment to our core values,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “His play this season has created a unique opportunity for him to receive feedback from NBA teams in the draft process. We support Donte fully and our staff will work together with him and his family to help him assess the next step in his basketball career.”

DiVincenzo averaged 13.4 points and 3.5 assists while shooting 48.1 percent from the field. His numbers jumped to 15 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists 54.7 percent shooting during the NCAA Tournament.

He must decide by May 30 if he will enter the draft or return to school.

DiVincenzo is the latest Wildcat to declare for the draft, as the mass exodus of stars continues for Villanova.

Mikael Bridges and Jalen Brunson have declared and hired agents, marking the end of their collegiate careers, while redshirt freshman Omari Spellman will also test the waters.

On the bright side, Phil Booth and Eric Paschall announced they will both return for next season.

Omari Spellman enters name in draft, but doesn't hire agent

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AP Images

Omari Spellman enters name in draft, but doesn't hire agent

Villanova might be losing yet another star player. 

This time, redshirt freshman Omari Spellman is entering his name for the 2018 NBA draft process. But unlike Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, Spellman won’t hire an agent. That’s an important distinction. 

Basically, this will allow Spellman to test the waters of the draft with the option of pulling his name and returning to Villanova for another season. He would need to withdraw from the draft by May 30 to maintain his eligibility. 

“Omari’s intelligence and willingness to be coached allowed him to make great strides last season,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said in a statement. “His development as a complete Villanova Basketball player was instrumental to our team’s success. We look forward to working together with Omari and his family in the coming weeks as they go through the process of evaluating the next step in his basketball career.”

During the 2017-18 season, Spellman was the Big East and Big 5 Rookie of the Year. He started all but one game during the season, averaging 10.9 points and 8.0 rebounds. He also led the Wildcats with 59 blocked shots. In addition to his big-man skills — Spellman is 6-9, 245 — he also hit over 43 percent of his shots from three. 

While we’ve heard from Spellman, Brunson and Bridges, still no word from Donte DiVincenzo or Eric Paschall about their future. The deadline for early entry to the draft is at 11:59 p.m. on April 22.