Villanova Wildcats

From nobody to a star, Josh Hart reflects on 2015 Big East Tournament

From nobody to a star, Josh Hart reflects on 2015 Big East Tournament

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- Nobody had heard of Josh Hart.

As strange as that seems now, two years ago, Hart was a reserve sophomore forward on a Villanova team that was 29-2, ranked No. 4 in the country and went into the Big East Tournament on a 12-game winning streak.

Hart was averaging 9.7 points and 4.4 rebounds per game on a team led by Darrun Hilliard, Ryan Arcidiacono, Daniel Ochefu, Dylan Ennis and JayVaughn Pinkston.

By the time the Big East tourney was over?

Oh, everybody knew who Hart was.

Hart had 53 points, six rebounds, six assists and five steals in tournament wins over Marquette, Providence and Xavier. He made 21 of 29 shots in the three tournament games -- 72 percent -- and was 9 for 14 from 3-point range.

Hart -- who was named Big East Player of the Year Wednesday -- became the first reserve in tournament history named MVP, and he hasn’t slowed down since. 

He averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds last year and emerged as a National Player of the Year candidate this year with 18.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game.

And it all started at the Garden two years ago this week.

"I remember there was very little pressure on him because we had Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn and Arch and Daniel, and he could just come in and let it fly, and he wasn’t getting the best player guarding him," Villanova coach Jay Wright recalled.

"And it was an advantage for us, it really was, because he was as good as a starter and he played as well as any starter in that (tournament) and deserved the MVP.

"So that’s different for him now. He goes up there and everybody knows who he is and gets double teams, and I think there’s a lot more attention paid to him on the court as there was that sophomore year."

Villanova opens play in the 2017 Big East Tournament at noon Thursday at Madison Square Garden against the St. John’s-Georgetown winner.

In seven career games in the Big East tourney, Hart has averaged 17.9 points and 5.0 rebounds and shot 62 percent from the field.

It’s expected now. In 2015, it wasn’t.

"I had great guys on the team," Hart said. "We had Darrun Hilliard, the second half of that year he was just on a tear, then you had Ryan (Arcidiacono), who was a junior but he was Ryan. You had J.P. (Pinkston).

"They had all these guys they had to takeaway so I was kind of where Mikal (Bridges) or Donte (DiVincenzo) is now, and you find yourself open a lot more than you do junior or senior year.

"Cutting down the nets was amazing but we’ve got to remember what got us there and we’ve got to do the same things."

Wright said what he remembers most from Hart’s performance at the Garden in 2015 isn’t his performance on the court, but his performance after the Wildcats won the tournament.

"What really clicked was his interiew after the game on the court after winning the MVP and how humble he was and how much he talked about his teammates and his family," Wright said.

"We really knew we had something special. We just watched him play and now you hear that as his response? You’re just thinking, 'This kid’s special.'"

Saddiq Bey's career-high 27 points help No. 23 Villanova hold off Penn

USA Today Images/Bill Streicher

Saddiq Bey's career-high 27 points help No. 23 Villanova hold off Penn

VILLANOVA, Pa. — Saddiq Bey kept another surprise defeat at bay for Villanova, and again made the Wildcats the top contender for another city championship.

Bey scored a career-high 27 points and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl had 13 points and 12 rebounds to lead No. 23 Villanova to an 80-69 victory over Penn on Wednesday night.

The Wildcats (6-2) finally pulled away from the Quakers over the final two minutes to avoid a second straight loss to their Philadelphia basketball rivals. Justin Moore converted a three-point play to give Villanova the breathing room it needed to hold off pesky Penn (5-4).

"The reason those games are like that and always have been is because we all know each other," coach Jay Wright said.

Jordan Dingle and AJ Brodeur each scored 18 points for Penn. Moore finished with 17 for the Wildcats.

The Quakers pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Philly hoops history last season when they knocked off the national champion Wildcats 78-75 at the Palestra. The Wildcats had won a city-record 25 straight games against Big 5 rivals Temple, Saint Joseph's, La Salle and the Quakers. Penn would win the Big 5 title but not the Ivy League crown that could have sent it back to the NCAA Tournament.

The Quakers came out determined to prove they were no one-upset wonder. They forced the game into the paint and kept the Wildcats from relying on the 3 to put them away. Brodeur scored 12 points and the Quakers had the game tied at 30-all late in the first half.

Jermaine Samuels swayed the game toward Villanova on a monster block on Devon Goodman's fast-break attempt and Bey capitalized with a thunderous jam on the other end that brought the fans to their feet. The dunk gave Bey 23 points, one better than his career high set earlier this season against Army.

Much like last season, the Quakers weren't going away. Goodman buried a 3 and quickly dunked off his own steal to bring the 11½-point underdog Quakers within four midway through the second half. Dingle hit a 3 to make it a one-point game and suddenly the thought of another shocker was in full force on Villanova's campus. Penn students stormed the court, tossed streamers, hopped around at midcourt, and mobbed the players after last season's win at the Palestra.

Robinson-Earl is a freshman and had nothing to do with the defeat, and knew even less about the Big 5. But one big game against the Quakers -- hardly confused with the powerhouse programs the Wildcats beat in March -- changed his perspective on the rivalry's meaning.

"The coaches have told me, the players have told me, it's just so important," he said. "I don't know a lot of the history about it but I can see from the energy Coach gives about how important it is."

The fans inside the Pavilion were all but silenced when the Quakers made it 48-47. The Quakers kept driving inside to keep the deficit within single digits and Dingle got a rise out of the Penn bench on a two-handed dunk. Try as they might, the Quakers couldn't stop Bey and couldn't go on enough of a run to ever take the lead. Goodman hit Penn's seventh 3 to make it 68-64 with Bey on the bench with four fouls.

The Wildcats made only 4 of 10 3-pointers; Bey was 10 of 18 overall with six rebounds.

"I don't know if we were ready for the physicality he brought to the game," Brodeur said. "He scored a lot of points at the basket."

The Wildcats held Penn to only five points over the final 4 minutes to hang on for the tougher-than-necessary victory.

"Three minutes to go, I thought the plan was working," Penn coach Steve Donohue said. "We just kind of ran out of gas on the offensive end.

Big picture 

Penn: The Quakers have never won on Villanova's campus, falling to 0-12.

Villanova: The Wildcats have 26 Big 5 titles, second to Temple's 28. Villanova won five straight before the Quakers ended the run last season but the Wildcats seem poised to go hard after another city title this season. They are 2-0 this season.

Up next 

Penn: The Quakers have a long layoff until they host Widener on Dec. 21.

Villanova: The Wildcats play Sunday at Saint Joseph's in traditionally the biggest city hoops game of the season.

Justin Moore scores 25 points in No. 22 Villanova's win over La Salle

USA Today Images/Eric Hartline

Justin Moore scores 25 points in No. 22 Villanova's win over La Salle

VILLANOVA, Pa. — Coach Jay Wright has a talented but inexperienced team at Villanova this year, capable of being dangerous and maddening — sometimes in the same game.

Justin Moore had 25 points off the bench, Saddiq Bey scored 19 and the 22nd-ranked Wildcats survived a sloppy second half to beat La Salle 83-72 on Sunday night.

"We've had different guys who have come up big for us on different nights," Wright said. "It was Justin for us tonight."

Villanova (5-2) went on a 28-6 run midway through the first half to build a 48-28 cushion at halftime. The Explorers closed within 10 twice in the second half thanks to some pesky defense that held the Wildcats without a field goal for over seven minutes. Villanova also committed 12 turnovers in the second half, helping La Salle hang around.

"They made better adjustments than us at halftime," Wright said. "They played hard and we made mistakes that an inexperienced team makes. Juniors who haven't been go-to guys and sophomores who haven't been leaders. But they are learning."

Ed Croswell led La Salle (4-3) with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting and 10 rebounds. David Beatty had 12 points for the Explorers.

"I'm proud of the way that our guys battled," said La Salle coach Ashley Howard, who was an assistant to Wright from 2013-18, a span that included two national titles. "We battled, but the first half we let the game get away from us with turnovers and poor transition defense."

Moore scored 15 points in the first half to help Villanova build the lead. Bey and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl each had 10 rebounds.

"We have to learn how to come out and play hard for 40 minutes," Moore said. "We had a great first half, but we have to match that intensity in the second half."

Collin Gillespie contributed 14 points for the Wildcats, who have won seven in a row against their Philadelphia Big Five City Series rival and improved to 26-1 since 2012-13 against the four other Division I schools in the unique college basketball association. The only loss in that span for the Wildcats came on Dec. 11, 2018, to Pennsylvania.

Big picture 

La Salle: Coming off a tournament win at the Gulf Coast Showdown last week, the Explorers dropped a game against a Wildcats squad that has bedeviled them for almost 20 years. Still, they have enough talent to make noise in the Atlantic 10.

Villanova: The Wildcats could move up in the AP Top 25 thanks to a chaotic week for teams above them, but their second-half struggles showed they are hardly a complete team.

Up next 

LaSalle: At Philly rival Drexel on Saturday.

Villanova: Hosts Big Five rival Pennsylvania on Wednesday night.