(Tip off between Villanova and Creighton on Saturday evening – Photo by Jason Schott)
Villanova won the Big East Championship on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden with a dominant win over Creighton, 74-60.
This is Villanova’s second Big East Championship in three seasons. Seton Hall beat them in the Final a year ago, and in this year’s Tourmanent, Villanova edged out the Pirates by two points, 55-53, on Friday night.
This game started off as a defensive battle, just as Creighton wanted it, and it was tied at 11 halfway through the first half.
Villanova then started to open it up, and they had a 22-15 lead on a three-pointer by Josh Hart at the 7:23 mark. Creighton responded and pulled to within 22-20 a couple minutes later.
From then on, it was all Villanova,as they closed the first half on a 14-2 run, led by eight points from Jalen Brunson, to take a commanding 36-22 lead into halftime.
Hart led the way for Villanova with 15 points in the first half, on 6-14 from the field, including 3 three-pointers.
The Villanova momentum continued right into the second half, as they took a 46-26 lead on a Hart three at the 15:08 mark.
Creighton was not done, as a Cole Huff three pulled them within 12 points, 54-42, at the 8:20 mark.
Villanova build their lead back up to 16, at 61-45, on Brunson free throws at the 5:13 mark.
Villanova is the defending national champion and will be entering this year’s tournament with a Number One seed, and and excellent chance to repeat.
With Villanova up 14, at 69-55, Mikal Bridges got a block that probably sealed the game at the 2:30 mark. Brunson made a free throw on their ensuing possession, and Hart made back-to-back layups to make it 74-57 with 1:23 remaining.
Hart led Villanova with 29 points on 9-18 shooting, including 4-8 on threes, six rebounds, and two assists.
Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright said of the win, “First, I want to congratulate Creighton. Really good basketball team. And we might have played our best defensive game of the year. And I think it’s because these guys know how good they are offensively. There was no problem getting their attention to prepare for their offensive execution and their tempo. And then just, again, great leadership from our seniors, and these two guys were just special, really special.”
Wright said of winning the Big East twice in three years, “It’s really good players. 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.”
The Villanova celebration was businesslike, and Josh Hart said of that, “I thought about the same thing. We didn’t — I think last time we ran on, we stormed the court, everyone’s jumping around, doing all that.
“But I think part of it was just exhaustion. We just played as hard as we could for 40 minutes. And then definitely we know we’ve got to get a lot better. We’ve got to keep being coachable. I think that was the other half of that.
“And obviously we’re very humble, very honored to win this against a tough Creighton team. Give them all the respect and credit. But we’ve got to keep getting better.”
Hart was named MVP of the tournament, and Wright said of how he has evolved as a player since 2015, the last time he got selected as Big East Tournament MVP, “It’s amazing, he was tournament MVP as a sophomore, and he’s better 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.”
“And I’m sure I’m biased. I don’t spend time with those other guys, but I don’t see anybody that does everything like he does.”