Villanova opened up relatively hot once again, building an 11-2 lead over the Friars by the 15:00 mark of the first half. Mikal Bridges led the way in the first half with 12 points on 4-6 shooting from the field. Jalen Brunson poured in his own 12, including going 3-5 from deep. However, outside Villanova’s dynamic duo, the team struggled to get going on the offensive end, going 4-13 combined in the first half.
All in all, the first half was defined by the tough defense being played by both teams. Villanova continued to improve on the defensive end, staying in front of the Friars and forcing tough shots. The Wildcats held Kyron Cartwright to just 2 first half points on 1-6 shooting. As for the Friar defense, Villanova struggled to create some space on the offensive end with only Mikal Bridges being able to consistently elevate above the defense.
In the second half, the Friars closed the gap. With ten minutes left in the game, Kyron Cartwright buried two straight three-pointers to trim ‘Nova’s lead to just two. Providence took the lead just seconds later on a tough and-1 by Drew Edwards.
The game went back and forth, primarily due to some suspect and inconsistent officiating. Villanova opened up a small four-point lead on a Mikal Bridges three and an Eric Paschall jumper with just over 3:00 minutes left in the half. However, Providence quickly closed the gap yet again, going up 60-58 with 38 seconds left in the game.
Out of a Villanova timeout, Jalen Brunson drew a foul and made 2-2 at the line to tie the game at 60. Providence’s last shot fell short to send the game into overtime.
In overtime, Villanova was able to pull away on yet another Mikal Bridges three and two clutch baskets from Jalen Brunson. With the Villanova defense holding the Friars scoreless for nearly the last two minutes of the game, the Cat’s were able to secure yet another piece of hardware.
The ‘Cats will now head back to the Main Line where they will wait to hear their tournament plans for the coming week. The consensus, at this time, is that Villanova will likely be the #1 seed in the East and heading to Pittsburgh for a Thursday game.
COACH WRIGHT: What an incredible college basketball game -- atmosphere at the Garden, we just feel so lucky to be a part of it.
Congratulations to Providence on an incredible season. And just what a tough team, man. Either team could have won that obviously overtime game. We just, hey, we had a great player pick up a loose ball and shoot a 3. It’s obviously not great offense or anything.
Providence defensively was unbelievable. Just a really gutty performance. I’m proud of our leadership. These two guys and Phil Booth, that was the difference for us.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. No win is easy, but after a couple of games that were a little bit easier than this one is not necessarily the worst kind of thing that you like to see your team go through heading into next week.
COACH WRIGHT: Exactly right. You don’t want it that way when you start the game. You hope -- and when you get a little lead, you want to create separation. But when it’s over, you just know how much this does for your team’s mental toughness.
And if you get into tough games in the tournament, you know you’ve been through that recently. And it is good for us.
Q. Jalen, you missed a one-and-one prior about two minutes left in the game. How were you able to have the composure to come back late in the game, hit two free throws to force the game to go into overtime?
JALEN BRUNSON: I approached every free throw the same, make or miss. Just concentrate and focus on the basket and myself. My teammates always have confidence in me. That’s pretty much it. Approach it the same way.
Q. Did it feel like in some ways it’s sort of old and new sort of merged on this floor today? It was such a crazy, throwback kind of game. You got Ed Cooley with his pants split, all kinds of crazy atmosphere. Did it feel like the old storied Big East games coming to life in the new Big East?
COACH WRIGHT: I’m glad you said it. I didn’t want to sound corny, saying it as a coach. But it really is, man. The atmosphere, you know, sold out. You can hear it from the beginning.
The tough physical play. You don’t see that as much in college basketball. Just the crazy plays. Just guys battling, great athletes. Coaches that know each other really well. It was old-school Big East and -- old-school Big East in 2018.
Q. Jalen and Mikal did most of the scoring; your other guys combined for 20 points. Could you talk about their contribution tonight, especially Eric and Omari?
COACH WRIGHT: Those are two I was going to start with. Eric got so many extra possessions for us. He was credited with six offensive rebounds but there was a number that he tipped free that we came up with. I think it had a big difference in the game.
And Omari defensively, I think Ed’s one of the best coaches in the country. He gets you into mismatches and he runs all his screening action until he gets a mismatch. And they were going after Omari. There were a number of possessions he was on Cartwright, the worst possible matchup for us, and he did a great job. Really proud of him.
Q. Mikal, before the game starts, you and Jalen, you guys almost shoulder tackle each other in the preparation. When you’re coming out in the pregame introductions, everyone’s hitting you. Is that sort of an embodiment of the physical play you guys look for and the type of team that you are?
MIKAL BRIDGES: In the beginning, I just thought me and JB, we just made up before the game just bumping into each other. But, yeah, like Coach actually had to tell me when I go through that little tunnel with my teammates, when I get hit around don’t smile. So I had to kind of change that throughout the season. (Laughter) but just showing toughness and that’s just who we are.
Q. I know it sounds clichÃ©, but was there any one point in the game when you just kind of looked around and just kind of took everything in, whether from the crowd going back and forth, to just the play on the court being so physical? Was there any one moment or was it kind of spread out throughout the game?
COACH WRIGHT: It always hits me when the game starts and you’re standing out there on the line looking at the other team lined up and the colors are out there. You had a great National Anthem. You can just hear the crowd yelling during the National Anthem. That’s when it hits me.
Once the game starts, believe it or not, I can’t appreciate it. But when it’s over you have that feeling. You have that feeling that you were in that atmosphere that was incredible.
Q. Ed also said that these three straight overtime games that his team played showed him that his team was ready for bigger and better things possibly in the tournament. How does a deep run like this prepare a team for the NCAA?
COACH WRIGHT: Well, sometimes when you -- it’s happened to us -- when you’re playing really well and you play through this tournament and win, not easily but you don’t have these kind of games, that’s three games. And maybe had a couple before that, that’s five.
Get into the NCAA Tournament, you get a good seed, maybe your first round game is like that. Then bang you get hit in that second round, you’re in a battle. It’s been a long time since you’ve played a game like that.
So when you get it here, and I know exactly what Ed’s saying, I feel the same way. When you get it here, if you get it in the first or second round of the NCAA Tournament you just did it a few days ago; you’re very comfortable in that situation.
Q. When did you realize that Ed Cooley split his pants and what did you think -- (laughter)?
COACH WRIGHT: I didn’t know until -- Val Ackerman told me after the game when we were up on the stage. So I never knew it. I didn’t see it.
Q. What did you think of the towel?
COACH WRIGHT: I didn’t even notice it. I didn’t know. I never look at the other coach. I really don’t. Because I love Ed Cooley. So I don’t want to -- God knows what he’s doing down there. I don’t want to see anything crazy. I never saw it. I never saw anything. I have no idea. I’ll watch the video, though, (laughter).
Q. You talk about old and new at the Big East. What about for your program? What does it mean to have guys like Randy Foye and Kyle Lowry on the bench and on the court after the game?
COACH WRIGHT: Don’t make me cry, man. That means the world to me. Those guys, Baker Dunleavy, he’s a coach, he’s a coach but he played on those teams with Kyle and Randy, and that got us going.
And I can’t remember -- I don’t think -- we didn’t win a Big East Tournament, did we, with those guys? I don’t -- I can’t remember who played with who anymore.
But I know they got us going. And I know we played some great battles in here. And I wanted them to be up there a part of it, and I wanted our young guys to see how much pride they take in them and following them.
I’m up there and Kyle is telling them how good Mikal is, and Randy Foye is telling me how good Jalen is; how he’s going to do in the NBA. To hear it from those guys means a lot.
Q. Put in the same circumstances, knowing your taste for clothing, what would you do? Would you pull a towel and be an Ed Cooley?
COACH WRIGHT: What did he do exactly?
Q. He grabbed a towel and put it here.
COACH WRIGHT: I don’t know what I would do, man. I think I would try -- I think I would try to fake like it didn’t happen and hold my coat over it, I think. Thank God I haven’t had that yet.
Q. Mikal, the play in overtime where Jalen gets the ball knocked away and it kind of bounced right to you and you hit the 3. Seemed like you kind of did it in one motion. Could you just take us through the play and just the instinct taking over there?
MIKAL BRIDGES: I saw JB driving and I was trying to move off the ball and fill behind him. I guess he lost the ball and I saw it, and I was just aggressive and just catch and shoot, simple.
Q. I just wanted to ask in terms of the quality of Providence’s defense, you played a team that gave up 68 points, 70 points and then held you guys to 60 in regulation. Talk about what it brought out of your team in terms of going into the next stage?
COACH WRIGHT: You’re exactly right. Their length, their length is daunting. And Ed, as I said, I think he’s one of the best coaches in the country.
He’s always got a great game plan. And we know each other so well. So they’re as prepared for us as anybody. So I think in the tournament, when you play bigger, longer teams, that’s what the game’s going to be like. And I think it’s going to prepare us well.
Q. Can you discuss winning the Big East title three out of four years?
COACH WRIGHT: I haven’t got to think about that yet. You know, it’s just one year at a time. Sometime in the summer you look back at that.
Like right now, I’m so proud of these guys -- we didn’t win the regular season. And we were picked preseason. And we knew we had a good enough team to do it. Xavier is just a great team. They had a better season than us, flat out. But we kept getting better.
We don’t have any seniors. Like these guys are juniors with Phil Booth. And they just kept getting better throughout the year.
And these two were so unselfish. They’ve gotten all kinds of individual awards in the most unselfish ways. That’s what we want our program to be about.
They’re going to be held up in our program forever because they’ve got individual accomplishments and they never tried to.
Q. A lot of people talk about Jalen’s lack of emotion or whatever you call it, but what does that do for you in late-game situations like tonight? Is it one less thing you have to worry about keeping your leader cool, one less thing you have to worry about on court? How does it affect you?
COACH WRIGHT: Definitely. It keeps our team -- honestly, he’s the most mature person in the program, including me. And a lot of times during games he’s grabbing me and saying, attitude, Coach, attitude.
Chris Mack had the greatest line. He said, if you pull down the skin on his face there would be wires behind it. He’s like -- he’s so focused on the game. He’s on another level. He really is. And it’s what makes him great.
And we had a question, you missed a foul shot that would get to other people. Everybody on our team knows that’s not affecting him.
And all our players have great respect for him and confidence because of all throughout the game because of the way he conducts himself. Every day. Every day in practice when I get on him and every game.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.