Villanova did something even the national championship team of 2016 did, winning the Big East title with a 74-60 victory over Creighton on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
Josh Hart, Jalen Brunson and Kris Jenkins combined for 60 points and the Wildcats pulled away late in the first half, with a 14-5 run to go into the intermission with a 36-22 lead. Villanova led by as many as 20 in the second half and Creighton never really threatened.
Villanova won its first game in the Big East tournament with a 108-point outburst and won the title with a defensive effort. “We might have played our best defensive game of the year,” said head coach Jay Wright. “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.”
Josh Hart was named Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament, capping off the run with a 29-point effort a day after he had the game-winning putback against Seton Hall. Hart, the nephew of Yankee legend Elston Howard, won the award in 2015. The guard joins Patrick Ewing and Peyton Siva as the only players to win the award twice. “It’s amazing, he was tournament MVP as a sophomore, and he’s better in every aspect of the game,” Wright said. “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.”
Villanova lost 69-67 to Seton Hall in the 2016 Big East title game, something that was used as a motivating factor.
“Coach brought it up plenty of times about how our demeanor was in the locker room after we lost,” said Jalen Brunson, who had 17 points and five assists against Creighton, and was named to the Big East All-Tournament team. “And coach didn’t want our senior class to go out like that again.”
Saturday didn’t have the drama that the two semifinal games had, instead it was Villanova showing that they were the best in the conference.
While it’s not winning the national championship at the buzzer, coming to New York and winning the conference means something, particularly for Wright, who grew up watching the Big East. “It was always my favorite basketball, all my
favorite teams, Villanova was my favorite team,” Wright said. “And I coached here in New York so every time I come back here there’s a lot of friends. I think the Garden is the mecca of college basketball. So I just enjoy seeing my guys enjoy it and win because I know it’s special to them, too. I get the feeling — a real good glow inside seeing these guys be happy and accomplish something.”
Villanova will likely be a 1-seed, and maybe the top seed overall. There is still work to be done as the Wildcats look to become the first team to repeat as national champions since the 2007 Florida Gators, but they can enjoy winning the Big East for a day.