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DePaul vs. Villanova: Wildcats Beat Blue Demons 68-65

The victory makes it 19 in a row for the 'Cats.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Villanova Wildcats opened Big East play on Wednesday night against the DePaul Blue Demons. With the 68-65 win, the ‘Cats improved to 13-0, tying the best start in school history, the other coming in 2014-15. The win also extends Villanova’s winning streak to 19, dating back to the start of the NCAA Tournament.

Josh Hart led the Wildcats with 25 points and 6 rebounds while Mikal Bridges contributed 8 points and 7 rebounds.

Jay Wright thought DePaul got the 'Cats out of their game and forced them to do things they didn't want to do.

"They had a really good game plan, they got Billy Garrett in one-on-one situations and he just made shots and made plays and the same thing with Cain," he told reporters. "They forced us into that game, and it's not ours, that's why you got to give them credit."

The Blue Demons jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead, before a 10-0 run put the Wildcats in the lead. Both sides went back and forth for the rest of the first half, with ‘Nova holding a 32-24 lead at halftime.

Junior Tre’Darius McCallum led DePaul with 8 points and 5 rebounds at the half, while the ‘Cats did a good job shutting down Eli Cain. Cain was held to 6 points on 3-12 shooting, including 0-4 from deep. As a team, the Blue Demons were 0-9 from deep in the first half.

McCallum finished the game with 19 points on 9-13 shooting and seven boards. Garrett Jr. also had a solid game, going for 14 points and 4 assists.

The Wildcats also struggled from three in the first half, going 5-16 as a team. Additionally, the 'Cats were uncharacteristically loose with the ball in the first half. They average just over 10 a game, but committed 9 just in the first half.

"I don't think we played with great poise to be honest with you. We made one more great one-on-one play than they did," said Wright.

After that difficult first half handling the ball, the 'Cats committed only 5 turnovers to finish the game with 14 total.

DePaul closed the lead to only 4 with 16 minutes left in the game, forcing Jay Wright to call a timeout. Just two minutes later, Kris Jenkins hit the first Villanova three of the second half, seemingly waking up the 'Cats for a time.

With just under 11 minutes left, the 'Cats stretched their lead to 51-39. Over the next 3 minutes, DePaul went on a 14-0 run to take a 53-51 lead. The 'Cats got the lead back with 5 minutes remaining after a Jalen Brunson lay-up pushed it to 54-53.

Josh Hart's lay-in gave the 'Cats a 58-56 lead, but a DePaul offensive rebound leading to a McCallum lay-in tied it up again. A Josh Hart and-one gave the 'Cats a 3 point lead but Billy Garrett Jr. made it 61-60 with 90 seconds left. Hart was fouled once again and converted both free throws to push 'Nova's lead to 3.

From when the game was tied at 56, to when Villanova held a 66-62 lead, Hart scored 10 straight for the Wildcats.

"I just wanted to be aggressive. Coach put me in that position, my teammates put me in that position. I just wanted to go, just help my team. We got to bring it, us three seniors, and we got to set the tone. That's something that we have to work on."

A Hart three gave the 'Cats a four point lead, but Garrett Jr. hit an and-one to make Villanova's lead 1 with 5 seconds left. Brunson hit 2 free throws to make the score 68-65 in favor of the 'Cats. Garrett Jr. had a good look at a 3 as time expired but missed to give the 'Cats the win.

Brunson finished the game with 13 points, 6 assists, and 4 boards. "Just always being aggressive to score is what coach preaches. Catch and shoot, being in attack mode, always being aggressive. Just playing what the defense gives us," said Brunson.

As a team, the 'Cats shot only 8-26 from three (30.8%), while DePaul shot 3-17 (17.6%) from deep.

The Wildcats now travel to Omaha for a New Years Eve match-up with number 10 and undefeated Creighton. "We're going to learn a lot from this game. But, so is Creighton. That's the beauty of league play."