Big East preview: 6th man Josh Hart Villanova's unsung hero


Big East preview: 6th man Josh Hart Villanova's unsung hero

Time after time, game after game, the script has been the same.

Villanova gets off to a sluggish start, some upset-minded team starts to build a little lead over the Wildcats, the lead starts to grow, Jay Wright looks up and down his bench and then sophomore Josh Hart enters the game.

And next time you look up at the scoreboard, Villanova is up 17, and the rout is on.

“Josh just brings that energy,” Villanova guard Ryan Arcidiacono said. “If we’re not bringing it that day, he just comes in makes shots, hustles, gets on the offensive glass.

“We know he can start, but he brings so much energy off the bench, we really appreciate his role on the team. He’s really accepted that role and it’s been great. Nothing he does surprises me.”

Hart was named Big East 6th Man of the Year earlier this week, and he certainly deserves the honor.

Hart is fifth on the No. 4 team in the nation in scoring (9.7 points per game), third in rebounding (4.4), sixth in assists (1.4) and second in steals (1.1).

Despite coming off the bench, Hart finished ninth in the Big East in shooting percentage (49 percent) and a close second in 3-point shooting (44.2 percent to Sterling Gibbs’ 44.8 percent).

“Obviously, everybody wants to start, but you can only have five starters, so the confidence they have in me being the first guy off the bench is really a testament to them and not to me,” Hart said.

“Eveybody wants to start and play 30 or 40 minutes a game, but realistically that’s not going to happen, so having the confidence this coaching staff gives me every day in practice and every game, I can go out there with a clear mind and play with energy and do everything I can to help the team win.”

And very few teams have won as much as Villanova this year.

The Wildcats take a 29-2 record and No. 4 national ranking (No. 3 in the coaches' poll) into New York for the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden.

Villanova is the top seed in the tourney and opens up at noon Thursday against the winner of a game Wednesday between Marquette and Seton Hall.

Villanova coach Jay Wright originally planned to start Hart this year, but Dylan Ennis had such a strong offseason, Wright’s plans changed.

“I said to Josh, ‘You had a really good summer and fall too, but Dylan was just tremendous and I’ve got to start him,’ and Josh said, ‘I understand,’ and just went to work,” Wright said.

“That’s so unusual for a young kid, a sophomore, and so mature. He turned it into such a positive to really have a great year and win 6th Man. Really impressive. I think it really speaks to his character.”

It’s a sign of how much Wright trusts Hart and how versatile and productive Hart is on both ends of the court that he’s averaging 25½ minutes per game –- only three less than Darrun Hilliard, a Big East Player of the Year candidate.

“Josh gives us everything when he comes in,” Hilliard said. “Toughness, makes shots, rebounds, defenses. He’s just an all-around great player.

“He’s a sponge. He listens to everything you tell him, wants to learn, wants to get better, has a great attitude. Think that’s why he got the sixth man of the year award. Obviously he has great talent, but he has a great attitude and demeanor off the court.

“Some guys would be upset that they’re not starting and go to another big-time program and start, but he’s never been like that. It’s just, ‘What can I do to help us win?’”

Hart stands 6-foot-5, 205 pounds. He can run the floor, he can rebound, he can shoot, he can defend. And because he’s so versatile, he’s always the first man off the bench.

No matter who Wright decides to take out.

“He’s the perfect sixth man because he can come in and play any position except probably point guard,” Wright said.

“He’s tough enough that we could play him at the 5 if we had to. We can play him anywhere, so that’s the beauty of it. We look at it when we’re making that first substitution, what do we need?

“If we need to get bigger, we can take out one of the guards and put him in. If we need to get quicker, we take out one of the forwards, and we can put him in either one of those spots, and he brings energy immediately at whatever spot we put him in.

“He brings an aggressiveness and an intensity and an ability to hit 3’s. That’s the best sixth man. You can’t get much better than that.”

Temple, Anthony Russo continue winning ways

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Temple, Anthony Russo continue winning ways


ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Temple quarterback Anthony Russo has impressed his coaches with his big arm and tendency to make game-changing plays at critical moments.

The 6-foot-4 sophomore delivered again in one of his team's biggest road tests of the season.

Russo threw for 300 yards with a 62-yard touchdown pass to Ventell Bryant midway through the fourth quarter and Temple won for the fourth time in five games by running past Navy 24-17 on Saturday.

"It was a fun game," Owls coach Geoff Collins said. "I am just so amazingly proud. Those guys fought back. They stayed together and made play after play after play in an adverse situation in a hostile environment. You just can't say enough about that group of young men who were in there."

Owls fullback Rob Ritrovato tied the game at 17 on a 1-yard plunge within 5:53 left in the third quarter. From there, the defense for Temple (4-3, 3-0 American Athletic Conference) contained Navy's triple-option attack.

Bryant, who had eight receptions for 147 yards, has caught a pass in 42 straight games, which is tied for the longest active streak in the FBS. He also had his first touchdown reception since a 34-10 win at Navy in the 2016 AAC championship game.

"Two years," Bryant said. "The last time I was in the end zone was here. It felt so great. I had a great week of practice. I was doing all of the little things I needed to do."

Senior Garret Lewis got his second career start at quarterback for Navy (2-4, 1-2) ahead of Malcolm Perry, who moved back to slotback. Lewis completed 3 of 11 pass attempts for 14 yards. He also ran for 56 yards with a 1-yard touchdown that gave the Midshipmen a 10-7 lead at the half.

Perry had a go-ahead 30-yard touchdown run called back because of an illegal block on center Ford Higgins.

"I thought that killed us," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said about the penalty. "I know I'm going to get reprimanded. I don't care. I'll take the fine. It was a horrible call. Just a flat-out horrible call. It was one of the worst I've seen in my 29 years of coaching. The guy did not push him. It cost us the game. I thought the call changed the game. We saw on the replay that it was a bad call."

League rules preclude officials from discussing judgement calls, according to Chuck Sullivan, assistant commissioner for communications for the AAC.

Sophomore fullback Nelson Smith had 18 carries for a career-high 108 yards for Navy, which has lost three straight games. He also had a career-long 45-yard run that set up his first touchdown run from 12 yards out on the opening drive of the third quarter that gave Navy a 17-7 lead.

"It was a good day for me, but I can't really be happy when we lose," Smith said.

Last year, Temple held Navy to 136 rushing yards in a 34-26 victory. This time, the Midshipmen responded with a huge day on the ground, running for 270 yards. However, it was still not enough against the surging Owls.

Temple running back Ryquell Armstead was out of the lineup with an ankle injury. Backup Tyliek Raynor scored his first career touchdown on a 15-yard run with that gave Temple a 7-3 lead with 11:31 left in the half.


Temple has enjoyed success in the state of Maryland this season. The Owls also routed the University of Maryland 35-14 in College Park on Sept. 15.


Temple: The Owls picked up a big win to keep their bowl hopes alive. Still, Temple faces a challenging schedule the rest of the way with games against No. 25 Cincinnati, No. 10 Central Florida and No. 23 Southern Florida.

Navy: The Midshipmen failed to get to .500 with a rare home loss. It was just the third time in four seasons Navy suffered a setback on its own turf. Navy also has a tough slate of the games the rest of the way, including a matchup with No. 5 Notre Dame on Oct. 27 in San Diego.


Temple: The Owls host No. 25 Cincinnati for their homecoming game Oct. 20.

Navy: The Midshipmen play at home against Houston on Oct. 20 before embarking on three straight road games.

No. 8 Penn State upset in heartbreaking fashion by Michigan State

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No. 8 Penn State upset in heartbreaking fashion by Michigan State


STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Brian Lewerke threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Felton Davis with 19 seconds left to lift Michigan State past No. 8 Penn State 21-17 on Saturday, making it two consecutive seasons that the Spartans used a late score to hand the Nittany Lions a second straight loss.

Lewerke completed 25 of 52 passes for 259 yards with an interception and two touchdowns for the Spartans (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten), who were coming off a loss at Northwestern but handed Penn State (4-2, 1-2) a devastating blow - just like last year.

Two weeks ago, Penn State let a fourth-quarter lead get away against Ohio State before getting a week off to prepare for Michigan State. Last year, in consecutive weeks, Penn State lost to Ohio State and Michigan State, with the Spartans kicking a last-second field goal.

Davis, who came back from an injury he sustained on the previous drive, finished with eight catches for 100 yards.

Miles Sanders ran for 162 yards and a touchdown for the Nittany Lions and Trace McSorley completed 19 of 32 passes for 192 yards with a touchdown to become the program's all-time passing yardage leader.

It looked like the Spartans would regret an attempt at late trickery.

After a 10-play drive deep into Penn State territory, Michigan State lined up for what could've been a tying 40-yard field goal with 5:19 left, but faked the kick. The ploy failed when safety Garrett Taylor swatted Lewerke's pass away from defensive tackle Raequan Williams.

But Penn State ran just seven plays on its next two possessions and gave Lewerke the ball back with 1:19 to play and he put together an eight-play, 76-yard game-winning drive .


Michigan State: The banged up Spartans, still without running back LJ Scott and wideout Cody White, were able to control time of possession and keep Penn State's offense well below its scoring average. That possession time advantage paid off as Penn State's defense looked gassed again in the fourth quarter.

Penn State: Coach James Franklin said his team needed to evolve from a great team to an elite one after its one-point loss to Ohio State. The Nittany Lions still have plenty of work to do to get there. They looked sluggish on offense late, committed six penalties for 41 yards, turned the ball over twice and had no answer for Lewerke's arm in the fourth quarter.


Michigan State: The Spartans host No. 12 Michigan next week.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions go to Indiana next week.