VILLANOVA, PA. 12/28/2016 – Coach Jay Wright divides the season into segments. The non-conference segment is over, and the top-ranked Villanova Wildcats move onto the Big East part of the schedule. Villanova has been successful in the conference openers winning their last four. To open the 2007-08 season the DePaul Blue Demons upended Nova 84 – 76. Villanova expected a tussle and got one. In this type of situation put the game in the hands of the best player, and the Wildcats did as Josh Hart scored 10 of the last 12 team points allowing Nova to come away with a 68 – 65 win at the Pavilion.
“I wanted to be aggressive,” Hart said. “My teammates put me in that position. I wanted to help our team. There were times I could have kicked it out, but I wanted to aggressive.”
The score was tied at 56 with 3:37 remaining. Hart went in a run of 10 straight points, a variety of such. The senior guard started with a basket, then turned in a traditional three-point play with just under two minutes left. Hart converted two free throws and ended his streak with a dagger three-pointer to give Villanova a 66 – 62 lead with 9 more ticks on the clock. Hart scored a game-high 25 points on 8 for 15 shooting. He made 8 of 9 from the line. It was the fifth straight game scoring 20 points or more for the senior, his seventh overall this season.
Villanova (13 – 0) kept a lead until the latter part of the second half. The lead would fluctuate between 4 and 8 points. The Cats got some separation with a 12 – 4 run keyed by two shifty drives to the basket by Jalen Brunson, who scored 13 points and handed out a game-best 6 assists, taking a 51 – 39 lead at the 11:08 mark. DePaul answered by scoring the next 14 points over a 3:33 span to tie the game at 51. The game would stay close with the score being even at 56 before Hart took over. DePaul guard Billy Garrett had an open three at the end that hit the rim and bounced away.
“I thought we met the challenge,” said DePaul Coach Dave Leitao. “It was a one possession game at the end. Josh (Hart), the All-American that he is scored 10 points. He got to the line, got easy baskets, and hit a big-time three. That carried them over the top. That is what All-Americans are supposed to do. We have to regroup and learn something about ourselves that will be of benefit down the road.”
There were three areas for Villanova which nearly cost them. Turnovers were one. Villanova averages 10 turnovers per game, but committed 14, 9 in the first half, which gave DePaul a 14 – 2 edge in points off turnovers. The Demons, who average 14 miscues, had 7. From three-point land Nova could not consistently hit the deep shot making 8 of 26. Senior Kris Jenkins sunk 3 and scored 12 points total. The Wildcats converted 69.2% from the free throw line (18 – 26) which was 10 percentage points under their season average.
“They had a great game plan, and normally we adjust to that, but we didn’t tonight,” said Villanova Coach Jay Wright.
“We’ve got to set the tone,” said Hart.
The Blue Demons (7 – 7) were led in scoring by forward Tre’Darius McCallum who had 19 points and 7 rebounds. Garrett posted 17 points, and leading scorer Eli Cain netted 14.
However, Villanova found a way to start Big East play at 1 – 0. The winning streak grows to 19 games overall and 45 at the Pavilion.
“You have to give them credit (DePaul),” said Wright. “They make you play their way. Josh went one-on-one and made plays. We had a great player win it for us at the end.”
The Wildcats face a big test on New Year’s Eve as they play the 10th ranked Creighton Blue Jays in Omaha.
Written By: Glenn Papazian