Wildcats clinch Big East win against DePaul 68-65 behind Hart’s 25 points



David Jarman

In their first game of Big East play, the Wildcats survived a barn-burner in a three-point victory against DePaul, 68-65. Josh Hart scored a game-high 25 points, scoring 10 in the game’s final three minutes.

“You have to give all the credit to DePaul,” Head Coach Jay Wright said. “They had a really good game plan.”

The Blue Demons were not intimidated going into tonight’s matchup against the number one ranked team in the country. They were able to execute their game plan by getting the ball to senior guard Billy Garrett Jr. and sophomore guard Eli Cain in one-on-one situations against the Villanova defense, as both guards were able to score in bunches Wednesday night.

Garrett finished with 17 points and had a chance to send the game into overtime in the last three seconds of the game. Cain finished with 14 points and junior forward Tre’Darius McCallum lead DePaul with 19 points.

DePaul came to play defensively, as nine of Villanova’s 11 turnovers were in the first half. This was the second straight game the Wildcats turned the ball over eight or more times in the first half.

DePaul was able to put pressure on Villanova’s three-point shooting, as the Wildcats were five for 16 behind the arc.

Hart attacked the rim with attitude and Kris Jenkins was able to find his stroke in the first half with six of his nine points from three. Offensively for DePaul, Cain and McCallum scored 12 of DePaul’s 24 first half points, keeping the Blue Deacons in the game.

Villanova’s defense was able to put pressure on DePaul in the first half, as the Blue Demons shot 12-for-33 from the field. DePaul’s three-point shooting was abysmal at 0-for-9 from behind the arc.

In the second half, DePaul came out with a chip on their shoulder. Villanova called a timeout four minutes into the half after Cain and McCallum scored a combined seven points to cut the Wildcat lead to 37-33.

A Jenkins three-pointer sparked Villanova’s offense after the timeout. The senior forward finished with 12 points, nine of them from behind the arc.

Sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson hit back-to-back layups, as he was able to attack the lane at will. A three-pointer by Donte DiVincenzo gave the Wildcats a commanding 51-39 lead with 11 minutes to play. 

DePaul responded with a 13-0 run to have their first lead of the game, as the Wildcats were ice cold from the floor during DePaul’s five-minute scoring run.   Once DePaul took their two-point lead, it was the Brunson and Hart show for the rest of the game.

While Garrett and McCallum lead the charge for DePaul, Brunson carried the ‘Cats by attacking the basket and getting to the free-throw line. Despite DePaul outscoring Villanova in the paint, points off turnovers and second chance points, the veteran leadership of Brunson and Hart allowed Villanova to continue their 19-game winning streak, dating back to last season’s NCAA Tournament run.

“Being aggressive to score is what coach preaches,” Brunson said. “Catching to shoot, always being in attack mode, always being aggressive and playing what the defense gives us.”

With nine seconds left in the game and the Wildcats holding on to a one-point lead, Hart hit a three that would give Villanova a four-point cushion at 66-62.

After an ensuing three-point play from Garrett, Brunson hit two free-throws to give Villanova a three point lead.

Brunson finished with 13 points, and with the help of Hart, the two guards combined for 15 of Villanova’s final 17 points in the last six minutes of the game.

“I just wanted to be aggressive,” Hart said. “My teammates put me in that position. I just wanted to help our team.”

When Garrett’s last-second three-pointer missed the rim, the clock expired and Villanova secured its first Big East win of the season. 

“Having three seniors really helps,” Wright said. “I always say about Jalen Brunson -he’s an old soul. It’s like having another senior out there, even though he’s only a sophomore.”

With a few days off, the Wildcats will travel to Omaha, Neb. to take on the tenth-ranked Creighton Blue Jays in a battle between undefeated teams on New Year’s Eve. Fireworks may go off earlier than expected with tip-off set at 1 p.m. on Fox Sports 1.