NEW YORK -- Jalen Brunson was averaging 10.3 points and 2 1/2 assists in 24 1/2 minutes per game going into last year's Big East Championship Game.
He had just been named to the Big East all-freshman team, and, with his calm demeanor and team-first mentality, he would become a huge part of Villanova's run to the NCAA title three weeks later.
So Brunson's stat line that night a year ago was shocking:
Nine minutes. No points.
After starting the game as usual, Brunson was yanked by coach Jay Wright after Seton Hall dominated the game's opening minutes. He wound up playing only two minutes in the second half.
"I just approached it like, 'OK, if that’s what you want to do, I'll be the biggest cheerleader,'" Brunson said Saturday night.
"I just told coach, whatever you need me to do. And whatever you need me to do this year as well, I'm all in for the team. Whatever he wants me to do, I'm down for."
This year's Big East Championship Game was a little different. Brunson, now without question one of the best point guards in the country, was his usual self with 17 points on 5 for 7 shooting and five assists in 34 minutes as the Wildcats beat Creighton, 74-60, to win their second Big East title in three years.
He said last year's game -- the only time in his career he's failed to score and the only time he's played single-digit minutes -- wasn't on his mind, although he later conceded it was but just a little bit.
"I was just focused on trying to make the right play, just trying to make sure our team was together, making sure we were defending well, making sure we were on the same page," he said, "Honestly, that's the only thing I was focused on."
Jay Wright said he was forced to pull Brunson from last year's championship game for strategic reasons.
"They came up with a gameplan no one had ever done to us where they ran offense to get Jalen switched on (Isaiah) Whitehead and just isolate Jalen," Wright said.
"And he’s a little freshman going against a big strong pro and they just kept on doing it and we just didn’t have an answer for it, and that's how they beat us last year. So we had to try to play bigger. We played Mikal (Bridges) and didn't play [Brunson] that much and it worked in the second half but we just couldn't win it.
"But we went to practice the next day and said, 'If someone does this to Jalen, this is what we're going to do.' And they did try it in the (NCAA) tournament and he handled it, but we didn't have him prepared for the Seton Hall game. It was just (Seton Hall coach) Kevin Willard making a smart move."
Brunson had never played just nine minutes in his life. So to have to sit on the bench and watch the biggest game of his life up to that point wasn't easy.
"It was definitely hard, I'm not going to lie," he said. "But it was a learning experience and something that made me stronger and it made me tougher and something that made me work harder, as well."
Villanova, which trailed Seton Hall by as many as 14 points in the first half last year, rallied to take the lead before losing by two with Brunson watching from the bench. It was a loss the Wildcats say helped propel them to the national title.
Wright said he was amazed how well Brunson handled what amounted to a public benching on national TV in the conference championship game at sold-out Madison Square Garden.
"Never worried about his confidence," Wright said. "That kid, really, I never worry about his confidence. Which is rare. You probably say it a lot but you worry about kids' confidence. Not him.
"But I just admired so much how he handled it afterwards. There was never, ever any doubt. There was never, 'If you had played me, we would have won,' or, 'I can't believe you didn't play me.'
"We went to practice the next day and said, 'You’re our guy,' and we worked on what we would do if someone does that next time, and I said to him, 'It's on me, they had a great gameplan, I wasn't prepared for that, and now we have an answer.'
"Jalen … It's like having a 15-year NBA veteran on the team. It's amazing. It’s really special. He's a hell of a player, but his mentality is on a whole different level. It's better than mine. I was kind of losing it with the ref late in the game, and he came over and was like, 'Yo, coach, attitude, attitude, stay calm.' He’s a sophomore, and he's saying that to me."
As productive as Brunson was last year, he's on another level this year.
He was recently announced as one of five finalists for the Bob Cousy Award, which is given annually to the best point guard in college basketball.
He's averaging 14.8 points, 4.2 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game, shooting 40 percent from three-point range and 54 percent overall.
He's one of only three players in Division I averaging at least 14 points and 4.0 assists per game and shooting at least 54 percent overall and 40 percent from three.
With Brunson in the lineup, Villanova is now 66-8 over the last two seasons.
Brunson said that experience last year, that nine-minute run against Seton Hall a year ago Sunday, wound up helping shape the player he is now.
"It was definitely a little bit disappointing and frustrating, but one thing I learned is that it all worked the best for me because I eventually got better," he said.
"What we took from that game was that we needed to play harder, we needed to play better, and individually it definitely made me work a little harder and what our team took from that game really helped us down the road."