Saturday, March 10, 2018

Villanova escapes Providence in a Big East classic in overtime

Photo Credit: Geno Green

NEW YORK— There is no place like Madison Square Garden on a Saturday night with raucous fan bases converged for a Big East Tournament title at stake.

The Villanova Wildcats (30-4) became the first team to repeat as Big East Tournament champions since the Louisville Cardinals (2012-13), but faced a steep challenge from the Providence Friars (21-13) before ending the game on an 8-0 run for a 76-66 win in overtime.

From start to finish, the physicality from both teams harkened back to the days of the old Big East and Villanova coach Jay Wright knew the title game would be special from the opening tip.

The atmosphere, you know, sold out. You can hear it from the beginning, Wright said. The tough, physical play. You dont see that as much in college basketball. It was old-school Big East and – old-school Big East in 2018.

Jalen Brunson finished with a career-high 31 points, but missed the front end of a one-in-one with 2:11 left and made two free throws with 30 seconds left, which sent the game to overtime. Brunsons experience helped in terms of having a short memory when it comes to misses.

I approach every free throw the same, make or miss, Brunson said. Just concentrate and focus on the basket and myself. My teammates always have confidence in me. Thats pretty much it. Approach it the same way.

Big East Tournament Most Outstanding Player Mikal Bridges produced another stellar performance with 25 points, on 9-of-14 from the field, highlighted by a three-point make to go up 68-64 in overtime.

“I saw JB driving and I was trying to move off the ball and fill behind him,” Bridges said. “I guess he lost the ball and I saw it, and I was just aggressive and just catch and shoot, simple.

Kyron Cartwright started out 1-of-6 with two points, but found a burst with 17 points in the second half/overtime and Wright raved about Cartwrights play through the course of the tournament.

We knew when it came down to crunch time that he would be a big part of the game, Wright said. He had a great tournament and is the leader of that team. Hes been great throughout his career and has become better every year.

Brunson played an integral part as he scored or assisted in the first seven points for the Wildcats, which highlighted an 11-2 start.

The Friars appeared to show signs of fatigue from playing back-to-back overtime games in as many days, but found a boost with a 9-0 to even the score behind six points from Alpha Diallo. As Providence surged, simple shots for Villanova came to a halt with six straight misses.

Providence turned the ball over on a more frequent basis and Bridges benefited with  seven points, which keyed Villanovas 10-0 run. The half of runs continued as the Friars went on a 9-0 run of their own to keep the Wildcats on alert. Villanova stayed balanced as it would not relinquish the lead for the remainder of the half as it went in the locker room with a 31-27 advantage.

The creativity of Brunson appeared on full display as he scored the first six points of the second half, highlighted by an acrobatic layup, which ended in a conventional three-point play to put Villanova back up by double digits.

Every time Villanova seemed to pull away, Providence would not go away like bed bugs as it went layup for layup to keep the game within range at 49-41. Cartwright came alive and found a second wind as he delivered the next eight points, which jolted the Friars crowd.

Seldom used Drew Edwards came off the bench and delivered a layup and a free throw, which gave Providence its first lead of the night at 52-51 with 7:49 left in regulation. The Wildcats retained the lead 53 seconds later on a layup from Bridges, but the Friars continued to hang on to the yo-yo strings of the Wildcats.

Brunsons miss on the front end of a one-in-one opened the door for Cartwright to deliver a fadeaway jumper on the other end as the shot clock expired to tie the game at 58. Cartwrights impact continued with a bounce pass to Diallo to put Providence ahead 60-58, but Brunson returned the favor with a pair of free throws as overtime loomed.

The overtime period witnessed Bridges clutch three-point shooting as the Wildcats led 68-64 and would not look back as they clinched their third tournament crown in four seasons— arguably the toughest one yet.

Looking Ahead:

Both teams will await their first round draws during the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on March 11 at 6 p.m. ET on TBS.

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