Hilliard excels as cornerstone of ’Nova’s offense



Greg Habeeb

With a flick of his wrists, freshman guard Phil Booth fired a chest pass into the hands of his senior backcourt-mate Darrun Hilliard. In one fluid motion Hilliard, left far too open for a player of his caliber, caught the ball, turned and launched a shot from the corner.


It was not the first time in Hilliard’s career that he had made such a shot look so easy, and barring some sort of horrifying catastrophe, it certainly will not be the last.

Hilliard has emerged as the go -to option on offense for the Wildcats team and their incredibly balanced lineup. As of Sunday night, the ’Cats have six players averaging at least nine points per game, and four averaging double-digits. 

It is Hilliard, however, who leads the Wildcats in points per game, total shots attempted, and total shots made, despite missing Dec 23’s tilt against NJIT.

Sunday night’s victory over Creighton was led, in no small part, by another banner effort from the 6-6 guard from Bethlehem, Pa., as he drained a season-high five 3-pointers, each one looking as effortless as the last. 

Hilliard ended up with 24 points, his fifth game reaching the 20-point mark this season. The rest of the Wildcats have only four such high-scoring games as a team, twice by sophomore guard Josh Hart and once each by both starting forwards, senior JayVaughn Pinkston and junior Daniel Ochefu. 

Big things were expected from Hilliard coming into the season. In 2014 he was second on the team in scoring and posted a remarkably efficient 49/41/72 split. Though he was passed over for Big East Preseason Player of the Year in favor of Georgetown junior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Hilliard still figured to be a major factor in the conference race. 

Hilliard started slow out of the gate however, shooting only 32 percent from the field through ’Nova’s first five games. 

The star Wildcat then got red- hot over the next ten contests, averaging just under 16 points per game while shooting an incendiary 53 percent from the floor. 

Though he had struggled to maintain that efficiency over the last three games, Hilliard snapped out of the slump with Sunday night’s sensational offensive display. His shooting splits continue to inch even closer to last season’s.  His percentages currently stand at 45/38/77 (FG%/3PT%/FT%), which, while not as otherworldly as last season’s marks, are still a sign of a highly proficient scorer.

Part of what makes Hilliard so great is his demeanor. He always seems, to borrow a phrase from the late Stuart Scott, cooler than the other side of the pillow. 

Perhaps that’s why he’s saved some of his biggest performances for the biggest games, such as ’Nova’s upset victory over then No. 2 ranked Syracuse at the Wells Fargo Center two seasons ago. Hilliard was sensational in that game, scoring 25 points on 8-11 shooting. 

It stands as Hilliard’s second highest scoring output ever, and put him on the map as a player to be reckoned with. 

However, that same unflappable nature sometimes lends to an appearance of passivity in Hilliard’s game.  

“Tonight Darrun was aggressive and he hit shots, but sometimes he’s not as aggressive,” Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright said of his top scorer following Sunday’s victory.  

“He’s just got to be that way all the time and make the right plays,” Wright added.

Wright may be on to something. While Hilliard is the closest thing to a go to guy the Wildcats have, he still will occasionally disappear in games, such as ’Nova’s defeat to Georgetown on Jan. 19. 

Hilliard attempted only six shots in the blowout loss to the Hoyas and seemed to vanish when the wheels fell off of the Villanova attack in the game’s early stages.

Fortunately for the Wildcats, such instances have been relatively few and far between, and ’Nova’s astonishing depth  means that on nights where Hilliard is not exactly enforcing his will on the game he has teammates more than capable of picking up the slack. 

But when he’s on? Hilliard’s dynamic scoring ability takes this Wildcats team to another stratosphere. 

On Sunday night we caught another glimpse of what Hilliard is capable of. If he’s making the game look this easy come March, then the rest of college basketball could be in for a difficult ride.