Villanova Wildcats

Villanova future unclear for Brunson, but Booth expected back at 100 percent

Villanova future unclear for Brunson, but Booth expected back at 100 percent

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- Two big questions facing the 2017-18 Villanova Wildcats concern the future of guards Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth.

The verdict from coach Jay Wright is no news on Brunson and good news on Booth.

Brunson, a first team All-Big East pick as a sophomore this year, is expected to decide soon whether he'll enter his name in the 2017 NBA draft pool.

Even if he does, he can withdraw after the combine, much like teammates Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins did last spring, as long as he doesn't hire an agent.

Booth, who scored a game-high 20 points in Villanova's championship game win over North Carolina last March, was limited to three games as a junior this year and didn't play after the Western Michigan game on Nov. 17 because of lingering knee pain.

First the good news.

Booth, who projected as a starter this year, should be 100 percent for the start of next season.

Booth averaged 7.0 points per game last year. He shot 46 percent from three the last 13 games of last year as 'Nova rolled toward the national title and was money in the NCAA Tournament -- 57 percent from the field and 56 percent from three.

Wright said Monday Booth finally resumed practicing late in the season, and the results were encouraging.

"I am very confident that Phil will be 100 percent," he said. "Right at the end of the season we got him practicing, and he looked great. Kind of like Donte (DiVincenzo) last year. We didn't get Donte back till the end."

DiVincenzo was limited to nine games in 2016 and was granted a redshirt year by the NCAA. It's expected Booth will be granted a redshirt year as well and retain junior eligibility going into 2017-18.

As for Brunson, Wright said he hasn't yet spoken with the sophomore point guard or his family about Brunson's future but will have that discussion soon.

"I'm going to sit down with Jalen and his parents in the next day or so here," Wright said. "They're great people, they're intelligent, they're very straightforward. It'll be easy. Jalen's dad works in the NBA, he's got a great feel, so they don't really need my advice, and I trust any decision they would make."

Jalen's father, former Temple star Rick Brunson, was a nine-year NBA veteran and is currently an assistant coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Brunson averaged 14.7 points per game, 4.1 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game and shot 54 percent from the field this season. His 2.0 assist-to-turnover ratio was third best in the Big East, and his shooting percentage was 50th in all of NCAA Division I and third best in the Big East.

"Sandra and Rick Brunson, the parents, are such smart, level-headed people that I trust what they do with their son," Wright said.

"I really do. Sometimes you have people who aren't that experienced, so I feel like I have to protect them, but not in this case. Much like Josh Hart's parents last year, they're really solid, bright people. We're lucky that way."

Wright said he has no idea which way Brunson is leaning.

"You know what, I don't know," Wright said. "They could go either way. They could say, 'Hey, it's been a long year, we know he's coming back, so let's just rest him up and get ready [for next year],' or they could say, 'Let's look at the process and see how it plays out,' or they could say, 'Hey, he's close to graduating anyway, let's go now,' which wouldn't be a bad decision either."

Brunson is rated by various experts as anywhere from a mid- to late-first-round pick in this year's NBA draft.

If Brunson does leave early, the heir apparent at this point could be incoming freshman Collin Gillespie, who starred at Archbishop Wood in Warminster.

Both Hart and Jenkins participated in the NBA combine last year before withdrawing their names and spending their senior seasons at Villanova.

Hart said he hasn't spoken to Brunson yet about his future but would be happy to.

"If he decides to go through that process and all that, I definitely would be someone that would talk to him just about my past experience with it," he said.

"If he wants to hear my perspective, I’ll definitely help him out with that. … I'm not going to intrude in any of that. If he wants to talk, we live together. He can just go across the hall."

No. 13 Villanova blows second-half lead to St. John's

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No. 13 Villanova blows second-half lead to St. John's

Updated: 9:32 p.m.

BOX SCORE 

NEW YORK — A 70-foot shot just before halftime gave St. John's momentum, and LJ Figueroa and the Red Storm used a strong defensive effort in the second half to surprise No. 13 Villanova.

Figueroa scored 22 points and St. John's rallied to beat the Wildcats 71-65 on Sunday night. It was the first win for the Red Storm at Madison Square Garden against Villanova in 17 years, and they accomplished the feat in front of an energetic sellout crowd of nearly 20,000 fans.

"It was as loud as I can remember, maybe louder," St. John's coach Chris Mullin said. "I'm happy for them they got to experience that too. There's nothing like that. There are some great places to play college basketball, but when you get a full Madison Square Garden against a championship team like Villanova there's nothing like that. It's awesome. It helped us. It kept us in the game and took us to another level."

Trailing by 17 late in the first half, the Red Storm scored the final six points, including Justin Simon's shot from the opposite 3-point line that banked in just before the buzzer and made it 37-26.

"We were screaming the whole way into the locker room," said Mustapha Heron, who added 19 points. "We had to do it on the defensive end (in the second half)."

The Red Storm (19-7, 7-6 Big East) were down 48-34 with 12:30 left. They scored 20 of the next 25 points to take their first lead on Figueroa's 3-pointer from the corner.

During that run, Villanova coach Jay Wright was hit with a technical foul for arguing a call.

"Their half-court defense went to another level after they pressed us and the crowd got going," Wright said. "We had it to 11-12 in the second half there and they started pressing us. They got that turnover at half court and we got the technical that really got them going. That was the turning point in the game."

The teams traded the lead over the next few minutes before Figueroa hit another 3-pointer that gave the Red Storm a 58-57 advantage with 3:12 left and started an 8-0 run.

The Red Storm led 63-57 with 50 seconds left when Villanova's Phil Booth was fouled shooting a 3-pointer. He made two free throws to get the Wildcats within four.

That's as close as they could get as St. John's converted its free throws down the stretch to complete the biggest comeback since the team rallied from a 20-point deficit against DePaul in 2010.

Joe Cremo scored 14 points for Villanova (20-6, 11-2), and Eric Paschall added 11 points and 14 rebounds.

"It was a tale of two halves," Wright said. "We were really dominant in the first half, the second half they matched up the intensity."

The game was a little bit of revenge for the Red Storm, who lost to Villanova by five after blowing an 11-point second-half lead on Jan. 8.

The Wildcats jumped all over the Red Storm early on, outscoring them 29-10 over the first 12 minutes. During that stretch, the Red Storm went without a basket for 7:39.

He said it 
"It was a great college basketball atmosphere, the Garden was awesome today," Wright said. "Fun to be a part of it -- somewhat."

Singing St. John's praises 
Wright thinks St. John's is an NCAA Tournament team right now. There's still a few weeks left in the regular season.

"We played a lot of good teams this year — Marquette, Michigan, Kansas — this team I think is going to be a tournament team," he said.

Tip-ins 
St. John's Shamorie Ponds had 11 points on 2-of-14 shooting. ... It was the lowest scoring first half for St. John's this season, surpassing the 27 points the team had against Butler. ... St. John's Marvin Clark II hit a 3-pointer to start the second half and cross the 1,000-point career mark. It was his first basket of the game. ... St. John's is 3-1 this season in the conference against the top two teams — Marquette and Villanova.

Up next 
Villanova: At Georgetown on Wednesday.

St. John's: At Providence on Wednesday.

Eric Paschall, Phil Booth lead No. 13 Villanova past Providence

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Eric Paschall, Phil Booth lead No. 13 Villanova past Providence

BOX SCORE

VILLANOVA, Pa. — By the time Eric Paschall and Phil Booth exited the game in the final minutes, some fans had already left the arena since the result was no longer in question. Those that remained made sure to give the two fifth-year seniors a hearty ovation.

Paschall scored 20 of his 25 points in the second half and No. 13 Villanova rebounded from its first Big East loss by running away from Providence 85-67 on Wednesday night.

Booth added 22 for the Wildcats (20-5, 11-1), who were fresh off a one-point loss to No. 10 Marquette after getting off to a program best 10-0 start in league play.

"Great leadership from our two seniors," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "They've been carrying us a lot."

Nate Watson led Providence (14-11, 4-8) with 18 points. The Friars have lost four of their last five but were coming off an impressive 14-point road win at St. John's on Saturday.

"They had a lot of adults on the floor," Providence coach Ed Cooley said. "Most old teams win. Not many young teams win, unless they're just the blue bloods of all blue bloods."

After two straight 3-pointers from Paschall put Villanova ahead 53-45 early in the second half, Providence scored the next 10 points, culminating with a steal and acrobatic reverse layup from Maliek White, to take a 55-53 lead with 10:29 remaining.

But Paschall delivered two more big threes - right in front of the `Nova bench - to help the Wildcats close the game on a 23-6 run. Underclassmen Saddiq Bey and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree helped seal the win with a 3-pointer and three-point play during the decisive spurt.

Pashcall shot 10 for 13 from the field and 5 for 6 from 3-point range. Cosby-Roundtree finished with 12 points and didn't miss a shot from the field (4 for 4) or the foul line (4 for 4) as Villanova shot 63 percent in the second half.

"We just knew we had to get better," Paschall said. "It was a whole bunch of little things we had to work on."

Providence junior Alpha Diallo, the eighth leading scorer and top rebounder in the Big East, was held scoreless until an emphatic dunk and three-point play with 1:38 left in the first half followed by a 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left.

Diallo finished with 11 points and seven rebounds while committing five turnovers.

"I was proud of our guys for about 35 minutes," Cooley said. "I thought their experience and discipline showed late while our inexperience and lack of discipline showed late."

Big picture

Providence: The Friars, who have made the NCAA Tournament and won at least 20 games in each of the last five seasons, continue to struggle to put together complete performances. "Unless we can turn my team into another team, that's just what we're going to have to deal with with this year's group," Cooley said.

Villanova: The Wildcats have a one-game lead on Marquette for first place in the Big East while no other team in the league even has a winning record. Villanova won the first four regular-season championships of the revamped Big East before Xavier took the title last season.

Fouls upon fouls

After shooting a perfect 14 for 14 from the foul line in the first half, the Wildcats were on the wrong end of the whistle during one stretch midway through the second half in which they were called for four fouls in one possession.

Wright said he was proud of how his players kept their composure after what he called a "rare" sequence, while Booth claimed to have barely noticed the uniqueness of the situation.

"We were more focused on what we did wrong that caused the fouls," Booth said. "You just gotta keep playing."

Gotta have Hart

Los Angeles Lakers guard Josh Hart, who led Villanova to the 2016 national championship, joined his old college team for practice Tuesday and was honored before Wednesday's game, while wearing a Jalen Brunson Dallas Mavericks jersey.

"He sat through a film session and said, `I shouldn't have entered that room, I couldn't get out,'" Wright laughed. "But it's always good to have him. Our guys love him."

Up next

Providence begins a three-game home stretch vs. Xavier on Saturday afternoon.

Villanova plays the first of three straight games on the road at St. John's on Sunday evening.