NEW YORK -- Before Villanova tipped off Friday night against Providence, college hoops play-by-play man Gus Johnson was chatting with Wildcats senior Ryan Arcidiacono about his habit of diving into the crowd for loose balls.
“I told Gus Johnson I was going for him,” Arcidiacono said jokingly.
Arcidiacono didn’t dive into Johnson, but in the second half of the Big East Tournament semifinal Friday at Madison Square Garden, he did go airborne once again, soaring over a press table and three rows into the stands to bat the ball away from Providence guard Kris Dunn on a potential breakaway.
This has become Arcidiacono’s trademark move.
Into the stands.
“I’ve done it my whole life,” Arcidiacono said after Villanova advanced to Saturday’s Big East championship game against Seton Hall.
“That’s the way I’ve played my whole life, and that’s what we do at Villanova, so it was a perfect fit for me to come here, and I just think overall, offensively, defensively, I’m just a good fit here.
“And all the dives and the charges and stuff, that’s just a product of playing Villanova basketball.”
It seems to happen once or twice a game.
Loose ball or an errant pass, and there’s Arch flying over the sideline table, scattering notebooks and laptops, and landing in the stands.
The arena grows quiet for a moment, then a roar goes up as Arcidiacono emerges unscathed from this sea of humanity, climbs back over the table onto the court and assures his teammates he’s fine.
“If that was any other of my teammates, they would do the same thing,” Arcidiacono said.
“I just think I seemed to find the opportunities to do it. But I love it. I saw Kris Dunn back there by himself. I had to make a play on the ball."
No. 3 Villanova, 29-4, faces 24-8 Seton Hall in the Big East title game Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
Arcidiacono is playing well in his final Big East tournament. He has 34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, three steals and two turnovers in the Wildcats’ wins over Georgetown and Providence, and he’s made seven of 10 threes.
But the enduring memory of both games at the Garden so far is Arch flying into the stands.
“The leader he is … he gives his body up,” said Josh Hart, Villanova’s leading scorer. “That could have been a nasty fall. He could have really got hurt and he did not care at all. He’s all in to this team. You’ve got to love him.”
Hart has seen Arcidiacono do this for three years now, and he said Friday’s launch into the air to knock the ball away from Dunn at a key moment may have been Arch’s best acrobatic act yet.
“Today was big,” Hart said. “Today might have taken the cake. I’ve seen him jump over many stands, many tables, but today might have taken the cake.
“He does whatever he has to do to win. If he didn’t get that steal, that might have been a layup for Kris. That was a huge play. He didn’t hit a three or have a crazy move or an assist to somebody, but that play was huge.
“I think we had a turnover and they were going to have a for-sure two points, but luckily he was able to make that play.”
Arcidiacono, who grew up in Bucks County watching Villanova and learning what it meant to play Villanova basketball — an unselfish, team-first brand of ball — said he’s never gotten hurt launching himself into the stands.
“No, I thank my parents, I have a hard head,” he said. “I've done worse when I was younger.
“I enjoy it. I like it and I embrace it. Anything I can do to affect the game on the defensive end and make the plays and get our team on top.”
Arcidiacono on Friday became the first Villanova player ever with 1,500 points and 500 assists and only the second Big East player to reach those milestones since 2010. DePaul’s Brandon Young also did it.
But the post-game conversation centered on his high-flying dives.
“That's what he grew up watching,” coach Jay Wright said. “That's all he knows. He grew up in Philly watching Villanova basketball and watching Allan Ray and Randy Foye. It's like a kid growing up in Indiana watching Indiana basketball.
“So I really don't think anything of it. He does it in practice every day. He did it in high school. He did it before he came to Villanova. I love it.”
Arcidiacono did miss his senior year at Neshaminy High School after undergoing back surgery, but he said he’s never gotten hurt playing basketball.
“Actually, no,” he said. “Strong bones? I’ve had worse growing up. Never really had an injury that would keep me out. There were games I had to get stitches, but nothing that kept me out.
"I fractured my shoulder once … fractured my shoulder when I was in seventh grade during football. There was a kid, we were running a drill and this kid hit me pretty good. It was like two cars going right at each other.
“I came back the next year but I was very soft on the football field because I didn’t want to get hurt for basketball.”
So apparently Arcidiacono isn’t just smart and tough and talented.
He’s also indestructable.
“We don’t even worry about him,” Hart said. “We don’t even think about it. Just go make the play and put it in God’s hands.”