NEW YORK, N.Y. – In his final performance on the stage of the BIG EAST Tournament, senior Josh Hart delivered a sensational farewell act, scoring 29 points to lead the top seeded Wildcats (31-3) to a 74-60 victory over Creighton (25-9) in the conference’s title game.
The BIG EAST Tournament crown is Villanova’s third, and second in three seasons. For the second time in his storied career, the senior guard from Silver Spring, Md., earned the Dave Gavitt Award as this event’s Most Outstanding Player. Teammates Jalen Brunson – 17 points in this win – and Kris Jenkins – 14 points – were named to the All-Tournament team.
“It's really good players,” stated Villanova head coach Jay Wright when asked about these two most recent titles. “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.”
For the second time in as many nights, Hart was a catalyst, igniting the Wildcats offense with a run of 11 straight points midway through the first half that gave VU a lead it never relinquished. That started what became a 29-point, six rebound effort, his eighth outing of 25 or more points this season for Villanova.
“It's amazing,” Wright noted. “He was tournament MVP as a sophomore, and he's better (today) 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.”
Creighton coach Greg McDermott lauded the Wildcats in his post-game news conference remarks.
Stated McDermott: “You know, they're very ‐‐ in a lot of ways, from a coaching perspective, the way they play is how we all aspire to get our teams to play a little bit more like they do. Because they're so disciplined. Their shot selection is incredible, attention to detail, their hustle plays.”
The first 10 minutes of this title game closely resembled Villanova’s semifinal battle with Seton Hall. The play was physical and both squads – each playing its third game in as many days – were challenged to find smooth offense. The contest was deadlocked at 11 at the mid-point of the period.
However, the Wildcats’ BIG EAST Player of the Year began to make his presence felt as the contest reached the midpoint of the first half. Hart reeled off 11 consecutive points and VU outscored the Bluejays 25-11 over the final nine minutes of the period to grab a 36-22 halftime lead. In the process, Hart moved into tenth place on the school’s all-time scoring list (1,891) and became just the 14th player – and only guard – to collect 800 or more rebounds in his career on the Main Line (804).
Hart (15 points), Brunson (11) and Jenkins (8) combined to score 34 of Villanova’s 36 first half points. The only other VU player to record a point was sophomore Mikal Bridges. Creighton, meanwhile, got six points from the BIG EAST Freshman of the Year, Justin Patton.
Four quick points from Jenkins helped the Wildcats begin the second half as they had ended the first. Some strong defensive work helped push the advantage out to 46-26 before five straight points by Ronne Harrell Jr., shaved the Bluejays deficit to 46-31 with 13:46 on the second half clock.
With Harrell Jr. and Cole Huff making shots, Creighton narrowed the Villanova lead to 57-45 with 7:09 to play in the second half. But the Bluejays could never get the margin below double digits and the Wildcats gained the chance to celebrate on the court at Madison Square Garden again.
“I’m probably happier about this than I’m showing,” noted Wright afterward.
Villanova planned to return to campus on Sunday and will watch the NCAA Tournament Selection Show together at the Connelly Center.