ROSEMONT, Ill. – The No. 2 ranked Villanova Wildcats raced out to an early lead, built a 21-point margin at halftime, and went on to down DePaul (8-18 overall, 1-12 BIG EAST) 75-62 on Monday evening at Allstate Arena.
The victory is Villanova’s 25th of 2016-17 (25-2 overall, 12-2 BIG EAST) and marks the 12th time in program history the Wildcats have recorded 25 or more wins in a campaign. It is also the fourth straight year they have tallied at least 25 victories and the seventh time it has happened since 2005-06.
In his return to Chicagoland former Adlai Stevenson High School (Lincolnshire, Ill.) standout Jalen Brunson paced VU with 18 points along with four assists. National player of the year candidate Josh Hart added 16 points and four rebounds despite coping with first half foul trouble. Earlier in the day Hart was tabbed the BIG EAST Player of the Week, while freshman Donte DiVincenzo was named to the BIG EAST Honor Roll.
“Any road win in this league is a good win,” stated Wildcats head coach Jay Wright at a postgame news conference. “We played a great first half. I was really proud of how we started. It came from Josh. Even though he got in foul trouble, he just came out focused on defense and rebounding and really set the tone there.
“We told the guys at halftime – we watched this team all year and they’ve never quit. They kept playing hard and you have to give DePaul credit. It wasn’t pretty at the end.”
Redshirt sophomore Mikal Bridges – who finished with 15 points - dropped in a 3-pointer from the right wing on the night’s opening possession but it was Villanova’s defense which set the tone early. The Wildcats forced six early turnovers and grabbed a 10-2 edge five minutes into the contest as senior Kris Jenkins scored five of those points.
The Wildcats methodically expanded their margin thanks largely to their efforts at the defensive end. Freshman forward Dylan Painter came off the bench to supply a baseline jumper and three rebounds while Brunson kept the offense running smoothly.
After twenty minutes Brunson had 12 points along with three assists as the Wildcats built a 39-18 lead over the Blue Demons. VU held DePaul to 6-of-25 shooting from the field in the period (.280) to go with nine turnovers. Meanwhile, the ‘Cats converted 12-of-23 (.522) from the floor, including 6-of-12 (.500) from long range.
The Wildcats scored the first five points of the second half and pushed their advantage to 48-24 before DePaul began finding a groove. The Blue Demons connected on 7-of-15 3-point attempts after intermission but it wasn’t enough to seriously threaten the Wildcats, who closed their final visit to Allstate Arena with a 75-62 win. (DePaul is scheduled to move into a new facility near its Lincoln Park campus next season.)
“I thought we got sloppy with the ball, got sloppy defensively in the second half,” noted Wright. “It was the details – and, DePaul kept playing hard, you’ve got to give them credit.”
This was Brunson’s second visit to the Chicago area in his career and he shined, just as he had when the Wildcats won here last February 9.
“They came out and pressured us and the point guard’s got to run the show,” noted Wright. “Jalen just did a great job of mixing up driving, finding people. When you drive the ball physically and they foul, that can take off some of the pressure. He’s a very smart, mature, unselfish leader for us.”
Villanova’s next action comes Saturday at the Prudential Center in Newark when it meets Seton Hall (12:30 p.m./Fox and 610 Sports Radio.)