VILLANOVA — When a 16-point lead became a six-point lead and sputtering Villanova needed someone to get hot, Darrun Hilliard did what Darrun Hilliard has been doing lately.
Make shot after shot after shot.
Hilliard, playing his final game on Villanova's campus, capped a crazy 26-5 Wildcats run early in the second half with 14 points in just over four minutes, leading streaking No. 6 'Nova to its ninth straight win, 89-61, over No. 25 Providence Tuesday at the Pavilion (see Instant Replay).
Hilliard scored 24 points with four rebounds and four steals in 25 minutes. After making just one of five threes in the first half, he hit his first five in the second half.
He was unstoppable.
“I’m always locked in,” Hilliard said. “I always have that mindset.”
Providence scored 10 straight points over the end of the first half and start of the second half to cut Villanova’s lead to six at 38-32.
Hilliard then hit two foul shots and four straight threes in 4:04.
And 5½ minutes after the lead was cut to six, Villanova led by 25.
It was one of those moments where you look at this team and just sense that it could be Final Four good.
“I give all the credit to my teammates,” Hilliard said. “All the credit. I just shot the ball. They found me, they got me shots and it was all them. I did the easy part. They did all the work.”
Tuesday night was Senior Night at the Pavilion, and the Wildcats’ two seniors — Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston — carried the Wildcats, now 26-2 and 13-2 in the Big East.
Pinkston contributed 16 points on 7 for 11 from the field to go with eight rebounds and two blocks.
Hilliard’s 24 points matched the fourth-most of his four-year career, and the six threes were his third-most.
Hilliard has now hit at least 50 percent of his threes in four straight games, going a combined 21 for 38 during that span.
That’s 55 percent.
And it’s lifted his overall percentage to 41 percent, fifth-best in the Big East.
But Hilliard said he was more proud of his defense Tuesday than his offense.
“I just wanted to take it upon myself defensively,” he said. “Offensively, just play. I just wanted to come in and get us started defensively and be the best defender I could possibly be, because I know the offense would take care of itself.
"Coach is going to run enough plays and things were going to fall into place offensively.”
Hilliard spent most of the game guarding Big East scoring leader LaDontae Henton, who ranks seventh in NCAA Division I with 20.6 points per game.
Henton had just eight points with 6½ minutes left, and by then Villanova was up by 26. He finished with 12, matching his fewest points in a Big East game this year.
“First half, he was 1 for 7 but had four steals and was doing a great job guarding Henton,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said of Hilliard.
“Happy for him that he got it going in the second half, but I don’t think he would have really cared. He just did a great job defensively.”
Junior Ryan Arcidiacono contributed 13 points, four assists and three rebounds for Villanova, sophomores Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart added 11 and nine, and freshman Phil Booth scored 10 with three assists, two rebounds and two steals in 18 minutes.
Villanova made 13 of 25 from three, including 9 of 14 after halftime.
“We didn’t play well, and they played great,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “Hilliard’s been shooting it extremely well. He’s got the green light from the time he gets out of his bed in his dorm room.”
Villanova now has a three-game lead in the Big East with three games to go, but there are scenarios where if the Wildcats lose their last three games, they wouldn’t be the No. 1 seed.
But that’s not going to happen.
Villanova improved to 6-0 this year against nationally ranked teams, winning those six games by an average of 16 points.
It’s hard to imagine a better way for Hilliard to finish his home career.
Pinkston and Hilliard both received huge ovations when they were honored before the game.
“It was just a special moment,” Hilliard said. “Coming from Bethlehem, not a lot of things come out of there. I saw my mom crying, but I was trying to hold it in and stay focused on the game and not let too many tears fall.”