The Villanova Wildcats stayed perfect at home and atop the Big East standings with a 78-68 victory over the Providence Friars. Josh Hart continued his strong national player of the year campaign with 25 points on 10-16 shooting along with 6 rebounds and 4 assists. Kris Jenkins, Mikal Bridges, and Jalen Brunson joined Hart in double figures as the ‘Cats had a balanced scoring effort. As a team, Nova ended up shooting 52% from the field and 41% from 3.
Jalen Brunson found Josh Hart in the corner for a 3 to get the scoring started for the Cats. The defense was stingy early as Nova held the Friars to 2 points on 1-7 shooting in the first 6 minutes of the game. Darryl Reynolds set the tone with a massive block on Rodney Bullock and wasn’t allowing the Friars to get anything easy at the basket. Reynolds showed some offensive game as well knocking down a silky baseline jumper a few possessions later to get Nova off to a 12-4 lead.
Eric Paschall picked up his second foul with about 13 minutes left in the first half on an illegal screen that sent Jay Wright exploding at the referee. The missed call sparked the friars on an 8-2 run to tie the game at 12.
The ‘Cats responded quickly with 10 unanswered points including a Reynolds dunk and 3 balls from Kris Jenkins and Mikal Bridges. Kyron Cartwright wouldn’t let the Wildcats pull away as he knocked down consecutive tough baskets. However, Kris Jenkins answered each time, first with a turnaround mid-range jumper and then a sweeping floater across the lane.
Cartwright continued to keep the Friars in striking distance with 4 consecutive dimes to cut the Nova lead to 32-29 and forced Jay Wright to call a timeout with 2 minutes left in the half. On the ensuing Providence possession, the ‘Cats finally forced Cartwright to turn it over as he was out of control in transition. The mistake led to a huge fast-break 3 point play for Josh Hart causing the crowd to erupt.
The Friars were able to answer with an easy bucket to cut the lead to 35-31 before the half. Hart had a last second opportunity to extend the lead on a tough fade-away jumper, but couldn’t convert.
Nova shot 42% from the field in the first half while the Friars shot 46%. The ‘Cats out rebounded Providence 18-12 and had 12 second chance points. Jenkins and Hart led the team at the break with 10 points each while Bridges added 7.
Jay Wright’s halftime speech had the ‘Cats energized to start the second half as they came out of the locker room with an 8-0 run to regain a 12 point lead. Mikal Bridges had consecutive buckets to start the half and put himself in double figures for the 9th time this year.
The teams traded buckets for the next few minutes with Nova leading 52-40 with just over 12 minutes remaining. Josh Hart started to take over offensively attacking the rim for an easy layup, knocking down a corner 3, dropping a dime to Donte DiVincenzo, and then elevating off the dribble for a tough mid-range J. The national player of the year candidate had a stat line most players dream of with 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists with 11 minutes still left in the game!
Coming out of the media timeout, the Wildcats pulled away as Jalen Brunson knocked down a 3 after Donte went skying for an offensive rebound. On the ensuing possession, Brunson pushed the ball up the court and stepped through two defenders to dish a nifty pass to Kris Jenkins for another 3. The ‘Cats went up 60-43, forcing Ed Cooley to call a timeout.
The Friars were able to hang around a little bit as they knocked down four consecutive three-pointers to cut the lead to 66-57 with 5 minutes to go. Jay Wright immediately called a timeout and was not happy with the three point defense of the ‘Cats.
As usual, the leaders of the team responded. Josh Hart attacked the rim out of the timeout for a layup. Jalen Brunson followed him up with a dribbling clinic in the paint and a step through layup. Not to be outdone, Hart attacked the rim again on the next possession for an easy bucket to take the Nova lead up to 72-57 with just over 3 minutes remaining.
The Friars fought hard throughout the game, but the ‘Cats were too much to handle as they closed out the game with a 78-68 victory.
After the game, Providence coach Ed Cooley revealed starting PG Kyron Cartwright was playing through an illness. Cooley explained, “Not having Kyron for most of the 2nd half, not feeling well, really, really slowed our offensive rhythm down.”
Even after the victory, Coach Wright wasn’t happy with the team’s three point defense saying, “We got to get a consistency defensively. We had times during the game when we were really good and then we had times when we just broke down.”
The team travels to Marquette next on Tuesday.