Despite starting out slow, and giving 'Nova Nation flashbacks to yesterday's first half, the Wildcats got back on track and defeated the Creighton Blue Jays 74-60 to capture the Big East Tournament Championship for the second time in three years.
The 'Cats sputtered from the tip and, for the first eight minutes, found themselves constrained to passing around the arc looking for an open three. The Wildcats took 16 three pointers in the first half and drew only one free throw on a Jalen Brunson and-1. Then, Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson flipped the script. With ten minutes left in the first half, the game saw it's final tie, with both teams knotted at 11. Villanova then went on a 25-11 run to head into the half with a 14-point lead. Josh Hart finished the half with 15 points on 6-14 shooting (3-6 from deep) while JB put in 11 of his own, including a bucket that relocated the entirety of Omaha to Europe.
After the break, Villanova stretched the lead to 20 just after the first media timeout on a Josh Hart triple. Villanova's defense was stifling and Creighton began to unravel. Unable to move the ball, they settled for outside shots, which, to Villanova's relief, weren't falling. Attempts to get the ball into Patton were effective to an extent but Villanova's quick hands and transition offense allowed the 'Cats to capitalize on Creighton's attempts to go inside.
'Nova maintained a 15+ point lead for the majority of the half and Creighton cut the deficit to 14 with just over 5 minutes left. Villanova went cold for a spurt, going over 4 minutes without a field goal down the stretch. However, good defense and foul shots kept the Wildcats up by a comfortable margin. The 'Cats hung out and defeated the Bluejays by fourteen points.
Josh Hart finished with 29 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists. Fellow senior Kris Jenkins poured in 14, on 2-of-6 from deep. Jalen Brunson had a great game with 17 points, 4 assists, and only 2 turnovers. The Wildcats will return home to Villanova for Selection Sunday where they are expected to be revealed as the #1 seed in the East Region, and potentially the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
It's good to be a Wildcat.
Update: All Tournament Team
Dave Gavitt Trophy as the Most Outstanding Player of the BIG EAST Tournament.
Josh Hart, Villanova
The 2017 BIG EAST All-Tournament Team
Kris Jenkins, Villanova
Jalen Brunson, Villanova
Marcus Foster, Creighton
Angel Delgado, Seton Hall
Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
Update: Postgame Quotes
Q. Jay, can you talk about what winning two Big East championships in the last three years?
COACH WRIGHT: It's really good players. Kris Jenkins, Josh Hart, Darryl Reynolds were on these teams and so was Mikal. And so was Phil Booth. We've got good players. And that's what does it.
Q. Early in the season you had mentioned about wanting to develop the other players as the season goes on so that by the end of the season you'll have I guess a deeper threat as far as - have you reached that? Because it looks like you did?
COACH WRIGHT: I think we have. And Dylan Painter was the final piece, he's doing a great job. We didn't really need him tonight as much, but Donte DiVincenzo, Eric Paschall, even Mikal, who we thought early in the year would be coming off the bench if we had Phil Booth. Those guys have really developed into big-time players. So it gives us a good eight-man rotation now which is very important, especially this time of year, three games in a row.
Q. Josh, the celebration didn't really seem like a big celebration -- businesslike, a couple of hugs. What was the mindset there. Aren't you happy?
JOSH HART: I thought about the same thing. We didn't -- I think last time we ran on, we stormed the court, everyone's jumping around, doing all that. But I think part of it was just exhaustion. We just played as hard as we could for 40 minutes. And then definitely we know we've got to get a lot better. We've got to keep being coachable. I think that was the other half of that. And obviously we're very humble, very honored to win this against a tough Creighton team. Give them all the respect and credit. But we've got to keep getting better.
Q. Jay, talk about how Josh has evolved as a player since 2015, last time he got selected as Big East Tournament MVP?
COACH WRIGHT: It's amazing, he was tournament MVP as a sophomore, and he's better in every aspect of the game. He's such a better player, which is amazing if you think about it, that he won it and he's better in every aspect of the game. And finally going into this tournament, I think he put it all together. It was his leadership, it was his decision-making, his defense, his rebounding. And then putting the team on his back last night, making the big plays. He's just done everything. I think he's a complete basketball player. I think he's the best, most complete player in the country. And I'm sure I'm biased. I don't spend time with those other guys, but I don't see anybody that does everything like he does.
Q. Jay, what do you think changed four years ago? There's -- the league changed and not that you guys weren't playing well, but obviously not to the level you've been the last four years. What do you think happened? Why do you think you guys have taken off like this with the new conference?
COACH WRIGHT: I think the group of players that we had at the time it changed, the group of players were ready to be really good whatever conference we were in. And then the conference changed and we got into a great conference with home and home and real basketball. Everybody a basketball team. I think it just exhilarated everybody. Everywhere we played, you don't have any games where you go and you know, like, this place is half full, nobody really cares. The league and the group of players we had -- really Josh and these guys, freshmen -- it really started with Ryan Arcidiacono and those guys as freshmen when it changed. We had a great group of players. And what's interesting is when the Big East went to 16 teams -- that might have been '06, '05 or '06 -- we had the same situation. We had Randy Foye and Allen Ray and all those guys and we had a great team. I think we won the league in '06, right when the change came. We've been very lucky.
Q. Jalen, now that you guys have won this, can you be more honest about how much losing it last year drove you guys during the offseason and really through the year?
JALEN BRUNSON: I think it was, Coach brought it up plenty of times about how our demeanor was in the locker room after we lost. And coach didn't want our senior class to go out like that again. So we just brought in, the other guys bought into what Coach was saying. Obviously the seniors did as well. We have a group of seniors who lead us but also want to get better every day. Just shows the type of character those guys have.
Q. Coach, as defending NCAA champions, no team has won back-to-back in 20 years. What's it going to take for you guys to repeat? And is there more pressure on you guys going into this tournament?
COACH WRIGHT: You know what, I don't know yet about the pressure. There's different kinds of pressure during the year. There's definitely a hangover from last year, which however you define it put pressure on us through this season. And I thought we handled it really well. And now this is the final piece going into the tournament. I don't know what we're going to feel like until a couple days ahead. We're so focused -- this tournament was like a break from all of that, because you just get here and you know the NCAA Tournament's coming. You get here, you're just in New York, it's just Big East teams, it's that New York, Madison Square Garden vibe. This was a really nice break. I feel like we were like everybody else here, because we weren't defending champions, you know? So we gotta deal with that. I'm not sure how yet that's going to impact us.
Q. Jay, how does this Big East title feel and why do you appreciate it?
COACH WRIGHT: It feels a lot better than I'm probably showing. I just -- I grew up watching the Big East. Probably from your age, and it was always my favorite basketball, all my favorite teams, Villanova was my favorite team. And every time -- and I coached here in New York so every time I come back here there's a lot of friends. I think the Garden is the mecca of college basketball. So I just enjoy seeing my guys enjoy it and win because I know it's special to them, too. I get the feeling -- a real good glow inside seeing these guys be happy and accomplish something.
Q. Coach, obviously you executed on multiple facets of the game tonight. Talk to me more about how you guys shut down Creighton -- 17 turnovers, 21 points?
COACH WRIGHT: I thought against Seton Hall our ball pressure was not really good. We were kind of lax on the ball. And these guys really executed. I think Greg's teams execute as well as anybody, if not the best in the country. We knew if we just let them run their stuff we could get sliced up. So pressure on the ball was really important. And I thought we did a great job of it.
Q. Jay, what do you think your biggest obstacle is as a team going forward?
COACH WRIGHT: Just staying humble. You get a lot of attention. To the previous question, you know, we're still in this Big East mode. We're going to stay in New York tonight. We're going to enjoy this. Then we're going to go home and it's going to be Selection Sunday and start dealing with all the repeat, 1 seed, all that. Handling all that is going to be the biggest obstacle.
Q. Josh, I know you're not done yet, but have you had a chance to put everything you've accomplished so far in your career into perspective, and now topping off this season you've had so far in the Big East?
JOSH HART: Not really. I don't think I will for another month or so. And a lot of that comes from the guys to the right of me. He wants us to keep getting better. He wants us to keep being coachable. And last night we talked as a team. And I think every team right now would be happy -- well, last night -- happy that they're going to be in their conference championship game. And Coach, he was talking to us, telling us the truth, telling us honesty and telling us that we have to get a lot better. So when you have a coach who has accomplished everything that he's accomplished and he keeps talking about how we have to get better, there's no better example than that. You don't have to look other places. He keeps wanting to get better as a coach. He keeps wanting us as a team to get better. So I'm following his lead. And I'm not thinking about that now. I've got one month left of my college basketball career. And I can't think about that now.
Q. Jay, you talked about being a 1 seed. Do you think you've earned the overall No. 1 seed?
COACH WRIGHT: Probably. Probably. But we don't really care. I'm more excited about what you just said right there. We're going to be fine. We're going to be fine. Wherever they put us, whatever our seed is.
Q. Jalen and Josh, what do you feel is your greatest, like, strength in this Big East Tournament? How has that prepared you for the tournament as a team?
JOSH HART: I would say responding. I think that's the biggest part. Attitude, really. We had a very rare game with St. John's where everything really fell. And then we had Saturday, the adversity, the feel of that game was just like a championship game. And we had big mistakes down the stretch of that game. I had a late turnover. And we kept -- we didn't let that define us. We said attitude and we came back and got stops. I think that's really one of the things that we can really build from. That's something that we had really this whole week and I'm proud of that. I'm proud of our guys having that mentality of no matter what happens on offense, no matter what adversity strikes we're going to get through it.
Q. Coach, you talked earlier about ball pressure wasn't the greatest against Seton Hall. Going against Creighton you guys defended the perimeter very well and hard. Was that something you incorporated in your game plan for the championship?
COACH WRIGHT: Definitely. It was part of the reason that Seton Hall did a good job against us, because we didn't do a good job of ball pressure. But we also knew it could be a lot worse against Creighton if we didn't do that. So it's easy for a coach to say it, but when the players take responsibility and do it, that's hard to do. And these two actually did the best job.
Q. Jay, how do you balance what you have to do now with the team. Obviously you want to congratulate them and pump them up and make them feel really good about what they've accomplished, which is a lot. Yet you see things, obviously, if you played the game last night in the tournament, that might be it. So you see things that you have to correct. So how do you balance the patting on the back and the kicking in the butt?
COACH WRIGHT: Just honesty. And you just listened to Josh. We're honest with them. Then you have seniors -- are they going to take it and listen to it and fix the things you need to improve? Or are they going to say to themselves, we won the Big East championship, and that doesn't matter. They listen. It's simple when it works that way. But it's not -- but when you have people that listen and are humble -- I've said about these guys, I think the two characteristics they have that are so unique is humility and intelligence. They're humble and they listen and they know they won the Seton Hall games, they know there's things they have to do better. They know they won this game but there's some things we have to do better. And that's the way we'll handle it going forward.