NEW YORK, N.Y. – Clutch work down the stretch from Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges lifted Villanova to a 76-66 overtime victory over Providence Saturday night in the BIG EAST championship game. The win gives the Wildcats (30-4 overall) their second consecutive BIG EAST Tournament crown and third in the last four seasons. It is the fourth in program history.
Brunson tied a career high with 31 points while Bridges – named the Dave Gavitt Award winner as Most Outstanding Player – added 25 points.
“Either team could have won that overtime game,” said Wildcats head coach Jay Wright. “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, which is Mikal, Jalen and Phil Booth.”
Stated Providence coach Ed Cooley: “Villanova is a great team. Brunson, Bridges, two high-, high-level players. The other guys played off -- they carried their team today. They more than carried their team today and made some tough, tough shots.”
Although the start to this one wasn’t quite as Friday night’s 19-0 burst, the Wildcats jumped out quickly. Brunson scored the ‘Cats first points of what became an 8-0 surge to grab a 10-2 lead over the Friars after 4:06 had been played here. A Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree free throw made it 11-2.
However, Providence (21-13 overall), which came back from a 17 point deficit against Xavier in its semifinal win Friday, turned up the defensive heat and reeled off a 9-0 surge in response. With 11:57 to play in the period, the contest was tied at 11.
Brunson and Bridges helped ignite a 10-0 burst in response for the Wildcats to build a 21-11 lead before a Rodney Bullock triple narrowed the Friars deficit to 21-14 with 6:49 to play in the period. Six more points from Providence reduced the VU lead to 21-20. Two Bridges free throws snapped the VU drought but a traditional 3-point play from Alpha Diallo tied the contest at 23.
Villanova took a 31-27 advantage into the intermission. Brunson (13 points) and Bridges (12) were responsible for 25 of those points. Diallo paced Providence with 11 points. The Wildcats connected on 11-of-29 first half field goal attempts (.379) and limited the Friars to 1-of-9 shooting from beyond the 3-point arc.
Two 3-pointers by Brunson and a series of defensive stops allowed Villanova to push its advantage to 37-27 less than two minutes into the second half. But a trio of 3-pointers by Kyron Cartwright narrowed the Wildcats’ lead to 51-49 with 9:04 to play in the second half.
In fact, the 3-pointer turned the tide as the Friars drained 5-of-6 over the first 12 minutes of the period while VU was just 1-of-5. When Providence’s Drew Edwards scored on a put-back and converted a free throw, the Friars were in front at 52-51 with 7:49 to play in the second half.
A huge 3-pointer by Bridges pushed the Villanova lead to 58-54 but a scoring drought of 3:24 coupled with free throws by Diallo and a tough turnaround jumper by Cartwright tied the contest at 58. There was one minute to play as the Friars prepared to inbound the basketball in tied game.
A short jumper by Diallo gave Providence a 60-58 lead with 40.8 seconds on the clock. A pair of free throws by Brunson with 30.1 seconds tied the contest at 60. Cartwright’s short jumper bounced off the iron and with that overtime beckoned.
Bridges dropped in a 3-pointer above the top of the circle to give VU a 63-60 a minute into the period. Two Friars free throws shaved the gap to 63-62 before Brunson found Spellman underneath the basket for a deuce. Two more Providence free throws closed the lead to 65-64 before Bridges picked up a loose ball near the same spot he had made the earlier triple and poured in another 3-pointer to make it 68-64 in favor of the Cats at the 2:08 mark of overtime.
Diallo scored on a drive to pull the Friars to within 68-66 before Brunson sent in another clutch basket – this time with the shot clock near zero – to take a 70-66 lead. The Wildcats got free throws from Donte DiVincenzo to expand the edge to 72-66 and added four points over the final seconds to finish with a 10-point win.
Brunson’s 31 points places the junior in second place all-time in the BIG EAST Championship Game. In 1983, Boston College’s John Garris tallied 32 points to set the mark. Eric Paschall added 13 rebounds while Omari Spellman collected nine, as VU won the battle of the glass 41-36.
“Eric got so many extra possessions for us,” noted Wright. “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.”
The Wildcats will return to Villanova on Sunday and will gather to watch the NCAA Tournament Selection Show together at 6 p.m.
The 2017-18 Villanova Men’s Basketball season is presented by KeyBank.