Josh Hart scored 15 of his 29 points during an electrifying eight-minute span late in the first half and No. 2 Villanova overcame a sluggish start to beat Creighton, 74-60, Saturday in the Big East Tournament championship game at a sold-out Madison Square Garden.
Murray, as he normally does while partaking in normal human activities, attracted TV cameras and social media attention Friday night as Xavier ultimately fell to Creighton 75-72 in the Big East Tournament. 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. Both teams came up empty on two possessions until Hart rebounded Kris Jenkins’ 3-point attempt for the winning basket.
On the defensive end, Villanova was impressive. And so was Phil Booth. “We wanted to play 40 minutes of Villanova basketball”. “And that’s what does it”. With 10:28 remaining before halftime and the score tied 11-11, Hart took over and showed why he was named the Big East’s player of the year, scoring 11 straight points to give the Wildcats the lead for good. Villanova swept the season series with St. John’s by an average of 18 points.
“It’s unbelievable”, Wright noted.
“Probably the greatest accomplishment of the three seniors is to be as young as they are and handle the notoriety and the success [of last year] and still be normal senior students”, Wright said. After all, they’re 31-3 overall with one of the nation’s best offenses, excellent defense and a versatile lineup that includes the do-it-all Hart, the range of Jenkins, the long and athletic Mikal Bridges and the somewhat underappreciated play of Brunson, who has developed into a star with Ryan Arcidiacono gone. “And finally going into this tournament, I think he put it all together”. And then putting the team on his back last night, making the big plays. I think he’s a complete basketball player. Yet there it was, like every other team in every conference, playing as if there were no tomorrow.
“Terrific win for us”, Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. You can tell there is a lot of respect between these two teams. Because they’re so disciplined. Unlike many recent games, he didn’t seem to be gimpy, and his defense could be a huge lift for the Pirates in the coming days. The contest was deadlocked at 11 at the mid-point of the period.
Senior forward Cole Huff and leading scorer Marcus Foster paced Creighton with 13 points apiece.
“Just being a victor”, Hart said when asked how he wanted to be remembered in the Big East.
Walton finished with 29 points, nine assists, five rebounds, two steals and just one turnover and took over the game for the Wolverines (23-11), who have defeated Illinois, No. 13 Purdue and Minnesota since their plane skidded off the runway earlier in the week and delayed their arrival in D.C. They have Walton to thank for getting them to their first conference championship game 2014. Creighton never got within single digits in the entire second half, it’s one minor run immediately stopped by a Jalen Brunson 3-pointer.
With the win, Villanova enters the NCAA tournament with the fewest losses (three) of any reigning national champion since Duke in 2001-02.
The Wildcats (29-3) will face Seton Hall in the semifinals on Friday at Madison Square Garden. “I’m always happy”, Delgado said.
“For me, the motivation I use is the feeling that we had when that confetti came down and it wasn’t for us”, said Jackson, who was defending Hart near the right sideline.