PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Sophomore guard Jalen Brunson scored the game’s final seven points to help No. 4 Villanova outlast Providence 66-57 on Wednesday night at the Dunkin Donuts Center.
The Wildcats improved to 21-2 overall, 8-2 in the BIG EAST while the Friars dropped to 14-10 overall, 4-7 in conference play. The win was the 118th in the career of seniors Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds, establishing a new record for most wins in program history by a single class. The previous mark of 117 was established by the Class of 2016 a season ago.
Brunson finished with 21 points while Hart contributed 17 points and eight rebounds. Alpha Diallo led Providence with 18 points.
“I find myself repeating this everywhere in the conference we play: great environment and a great college basketball game,” stated head coach Jay Wright on a night when the Dunk was sold to capacity with a crowd of 12,463.
“Providence is tough and scrappy. We are not playing great basketball right now but we have found ways to fight and claw. That’s a good thing, I guess. But we still have a lot of work to do.”
Brunson helped get the Wildcats get off on the right foot, scoring six early points and adding two assists as Villanova jumped out to a 9-2 lead. However, Providence rebounded quickly, reeling off a 14-5 surge to knot matters at 16 after nine minutes had elapsed in the first half.
The rest of the first half was a tight affair. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Hart and Kris Jenkins pushed VU out to a 22-16 effort and the Cats claimed a 32-29 advantage at halftime. Hart led the way with 12 points in the period, all on 3-pointers.
A strong start to the second half helped the Wildcats extend their lead. A 3-pointer by sophomore Eric Paschall (12 points, six rebounds on the night) helped ignite a flurry that saw the Wildcats grab a 45-35 lead 4:05 into the second half.
That comfortable margin remained in place and grew to 55-42 with 9:58 left in the contest. However, Providence was able to slow the Wildcats offense and used a 9-0 run to narrow the gap to 59-57 after Diallo sank a 3-pointer with 2:12 to play.
The Friars would not score again while Brunson came up big at both ends. The native of Lincolnshire, Ill., was fouled in the act of shooting on a drive and sank the two free throws at the 1:38 mark to give Villanova a four point advantage. Then Brunson stole the ball from Rodney Bullock and made a layup at the other end of the court while being fouled. After sinking the free throw, the Wildcats led 64-57 with 40 seconds left.
One more defensive stop and two more Brunson free throws provided the final margin of victory. It was VU’s fourth consecutive triumph inside the Dunkin Donuts Center.
“(Providence coach) Ed Cooley is one of the best X and O guys in the country,” stated Wright. “He comes up with a lot of different things that you don’t necessarily prepare for. Their matchup zone was very effective in the first half. Sometimes, though, you get yourself in trouble in the first half and can’t recover. Fortunately, we did.
“Josh and Jalen just made some incredible plays. Thank God we’ve got good players.”
The Wildcats return to the Wells Fargo Center to host St. John’s on Saturday night (8 p.m./CBS Sports Network and 610 Sports Radio). This will be the Wildcats’ fourth and final regular season appearance in South Philadelphia. Their remaining three regular season home games are slated for the Pavilion.