Josh Hart leads Villanova to first round victory in Big East Tournament



Eugene Rapay

Who said Villanova can’t do well in the postseason?

“You can’t control what happens in the past,” Darrun Hilliard said. “You can only control what happens now. As far as last year, it’s over.

The Wildcats erased all fears of another Big East Tournament let down, taking down 9-seed Marquette, 84-49.

The Wildcats came bursting out of the gate, taking a 39-21 lead into halftime. Sophomore Josh Hart provided a spark off the bench that lit the rest of his team on fire. He was the catalyst that Villanova needed in order to dominate the first half. Hart provided 14 first half points and was a perfect 4-for-4 from long range.

“I felt confident,” Hart said. “My teammates did a great job of finding me.”

Villanova started the game with an 18-8 lead before the first official time out. During this stretch, they were 6-of-8 on the floor and 4-of-5 from the three-point line. After the time out, the Wildcats instantly cooled off.

Marquette capitalized on the Wildcats’ woes and went on an 8-0 run to put them right back into the game.

That’s when Big East Sixth Man of the Year checked in to the game.

Hart made 11 straight points for the Wildcats, extending their lead back into double figures. It was the foundation for a 17-0 Villanova run that left Marquette in the dust.

Hart returned later to add the icing on the cake, burying a three-pointer in closing seconds of the first half.

“He’s the perfect sixth man, “ Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “He probably won’t be one next year.”

Hart led the Wildcats with a game-high 20 points, shooting 7-of-10 on the floor and an impressive 5-of-7 from beyond the arc.

Defensively, the Wildcats harassed the Golden Eagles with their usual hard-nosed press.  As Villanova has shown time and time again this season, its defense may be more dangerous than its offense.

Villanova pushed Marquette well outside of its comfort zone. As a team, they forced the Golden Eagles to turn the ball over 22 times. Their effort to contain Marquette’s leading scorer, Matt Carlino, was also phenomenal.

Carlino tied a Big East record last night when he made nine three-pointers in the win against Seton Hall. Today, he was scoreless in the first half.

“He has one of the quickest releases,” Coach Wright added. “We were excellent in the first half defensively, really good execution by our guys.”

Carlino received no easy looks. He was often blanketed with a defender or two right behind him. He went on to finish with just five points, making only one shot from long range.

The Golden Eagles were held to 18-of-46 (39.1%) overall, and 5-of-18 from three-point range.

The second half was more of the same. Villanova overwhelmed Marquette with its arsenal of shooters. The Wildcats watched their lead grow. It stretched into the twenties, and eventually well into the thirties.

The enormous lead was a product of Villanova’s typical unselfish play. The Wildcats assisted on 22 of 30 made field goals.

The lead became too great for the Golden Eagles to overcome. At one point in the game, they even tried to give the Wildcats a taste of their own medicine. Marquette employed a full-court press, but even that couldn’t slow down the fiery Wildcats.

Villanova cruised to the finish line, with everyone on Villanova’s bench getting a piece of the action.

Aside from Hart’s 20 points, Hilliard added another 13 points. The senior guard also dished out a number of nice entry passes inside, leading to eight assists.

Junior guard Dylan Ennis chipped in 12 points, four rebounds, and three assists.

Daniel Ochefu didn’t light up the scoreboard, but he made his presence known in other ways. The big man in the middle had six points, seven boards, three steals, and a pair of assists.

Marquette was paced by senior guard Derrick Wilson, who had a team-high 11 points, six rebounds, and nine assists. Wilson set a Big East Tournament record with 14 assists last night, but couldn’t find the same success today. He accounted for nine turnovers.

Sophomore center Luke Fischer was the only other Golden Eagle to finish in double figures. He had 10 points and a pair of rebounds.

The Wildcats will take on the winner of today’s Providence-St. John’s game in a 7 p.m. semi final tip-off.

With the pressure of winning the Big East Tournament and a 1-seed looming over his team, Jay Wright reinforced the importance to refrain from looking ahead.

“These guys have been able to stay focused on the next game, and that’s a challenge for teams that win,” Coach Wright said. “When you lose it’s easy to look ahead. It’s when you keep winning that you have to focus on the next game.”