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."

Edwards leads Purdue to rout of reigning champ Villanova

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Edwards leads Purdue to rout of reigning champ Villanova

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Carsen Edwards had a career night, scoring 42 points as Purdue knocked reigning national champion Villanova out of the NCAA Tournament Saturday night in an 87-61 rout.

Matt Haarms added 18 points and nine rebounds for the third-seeded Boilermakers (25-9), who advanced to their third straight Sweet 16.

Eric Paschall had 19 for Villanova (26-10), which saw its quest for a third national title in the last four seasons end during the tournament's first weekend. Fellow senior Phil Booth scored 15 points, putting him over 1,500 for his career.

Edwards has battled a sore back and had been in a recent shooting slump, making just 7 of 23 shots from the field in Purdue's first-round win over Old Dominion. He found the bottom of the net early and often against `Nova, making 12 of his 21 shots, including nine of 16 from behind the arc.

Purdue shot 54 percent while holding Villanova to just 20 baskets on 58 shots (34 percent).

Purdue jumped out early, building a 13-point lead thanks to Edwards' outside shooting and Haarms' work down low.

The 7-foot-3 Dutchman towered over the shorter Wildcats, who didn't start anyone over 6-8. He had Purdue's first four points on a dunk and a put-back. Edwards hit five of his nine first-half shots, all of which came from three-point range.

Purdue had nine three-point baskets in the first half and a dunk by Haarms put the Boilermakers up 43-24 at intermission.

Another dunk from the Dutchman extended the lead to 35 in the second half. Villanova chipped away but the sixth seeded Big East champions did not have weapons to make it a game.

Defending champion Villanova shows its experience in NCAA Tournament first-round win over Saint Mary's

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Defending champion Villanova shows its experience in NCAA Tournament first-round win over Saint Mary's

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HARTFORD, Conn. — Villanova got off to a slow start in defense of its NCAA championship against a determined, defensive-minded Saint Mary's team that came in confident after a season-defining win.

But the Wildcats, a No. 6 seed in this NCAA Tournament after an up-and-down season, have one thing no team in the field of 64 has: a pair of leaders who have won two national titles.

 NPhil Booth scored 20 points, fellow senior Eric Paschell added 14 and Villanova held off 11th-seeded Saint Mary's 61-57 on Thursday night.

"We're growing, our young guys are growing, but we have two seniors who do everything for us, on and off the court," coach Jay Wright said. "We're just so lucky to have them."

Sophomore Jermaine Sameuls added 12 points for the Wildcats (26-9), who led for almost 33 minutes, but never by more than eight points.

"The tempo was excruciating," Wright said. "We felt going in we were going to have to grind with them."

The Gaels used the same slow pace to upset Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference Tournament, and it gave them a chance against Villanova (26-9) in a tense opening-round matchup.

Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts each had 13 points for Saint Mary's (22-12). Ford's basket in the lane after a few nifty moves got the Gaels within six points at 61-55 with 34 seconds left.

After Paschell missed a foul shot on the other end, Fitts cut the deficit to four points with a leaner in the lane. The Gaels had two more chances in the final seconds, but Fitts hit the rim on a 3-point attempt and Villanova freshman Saddiq Bey stole the ball from Ford in the final seconds to seal the win.

"We had a few games this year where we put the press on and were able to get back in the game," said Ford. "And if we get a few of those loose balls, or maybe make a three when we were down four, I think it's a different game."

Saint Mary's led 30-28 at the half, but Booth scored the first five points after intermission during a 12-3 run that put the Wildcats up 40-33. He had 12 points and five of his six assists in the second half.

"We weren't doing that bad, actually," Booth said. "It was more that they were playing very well and we were trying to match how they were bringing it. I think we just had to take it to another level, because they were playing at a high level."

Big picture

Villanova: The defending champions are in the tournament for the 14th time in 15 seasons and improved to 14-1 since 2016.

Saint Mary's: The Gaels are 4-6 in opening-round games in the NCAA Tournament and 5-10 overall. Saint Mary's has advanced to the Sweet 16 once in the modern era when it beat the Wildcats in 2010. There's a reminder of that run in the hallway outside the locker room that the players see as they walk out to practice each day in McKeon Pavilion.

Empty arena

The game tipped to a relatively empty arena, but it wasn't because nobody had bought tickets.

Fans of the Wildcats, many of whom made the 4-hour drive from Philadelphia to Hartford, Connecticut, were lined up along with Gaels fans behind metal detectors as security emptied the arena from the afternoon session.

"You worry about those things, you know?" Wright said. "We have a lot of guys in the NCAA Tournament for the first time thinking, `This is the NCAA Tournament?' There's no one in the stands."

By halftime, the 16,000-seat XL Center was nearing capacity, but some frustrated fans were sill filing in.

From distance

The game was billed as a battle between one of the nation's top 3-point shooting teams in Villanova against some of the nation's best perimeter defenders. In the end, the Wildcats finished 8 of 20 from behind the arc, while Saint Mary's was 8 of 22.

On the boards

The taller Gaels won the rebounding battle 33-29 and 10-5 on the offensive end. The Wildcats didn't have an offensive board until the second half and that led to an 11-4 advantage for Saint Mary's in second-chance points. Wright said this year's team was hurt by the transfer of 6-foot-9 Dylan Painter, but is going to have to find a way against taller opponents.

Up next

Villanova will play No. 3 seed Purdue in the second round Saturday.