DePaul puts scare into No. 1 Villanova
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VILLANOVA, Pa. — It is for reasons like Wednesday night that Josh Hart is among the favorites for the national player of the year.
Hart scored 25 points and Jalen Brunson added 13 as No. 1 Villanova barely held off DePaul, 68-65 on Wednesday night, the Wildcats’ 19th straight win.
The Wildcats (13-0, 1-0 Big East) looked rather pedestrian playing for the first time in a week. But thanks to Hart they survived.
The senior swingman scored 10 points in the final 3:06, including a dagger 3-pointer from the top of the key with 9.5 seconds left that gave Villanova a 66-62 lead.
“I just wanted to be aggressive,” Hart said. “Coach puts me in the position and my teammates put me in that position.”
DePaul’s Billy Garrett Jr. missed a clean look for a tying 3-pointer at the buzzer.
After a sloppy first half that featured nine turnovers, Villanova finally gained control of the game following a 14-6 run that gave the Wildcats a 51-39 lead with16:41 to go. But the Blue Demons responded with a 14-0 run to take a 53-51 lead.
From there Hart made sure the Wildcats remained undefeated and their home winning streak reached 44 games.
With the game tied at 56, Hart, on three consecutive possessions, hit a mid-range jumper, converted a three-point play and made two free throws to keep pace with the Blue Demons, who wouldn’t go away.
“That’s what veterans are about,” DePaul coach Dave Leitao said. “That’s what All-Americans are supposed to do.”
The Wildcats, who led for 33:05, face their biggest test of the year Saturday against No. 10 Creighton.
“We’re going to learn a lot from this,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. “We hope we don’t need wake-up calls.”
Tre’Darius McCallum had 19 points for the Blue Demons (7-7, 0-1) while Garrett added 17 and Eli Cain had 14.
DePaul hung in the game despite missing all nine of its attempts from beyond the arc in the first half. They forced nine Villanova turnovers in the opening 20 minutes and 14 for the game.
“Our guys showed great heart,” Leitao said.
DePaul: In easily their best showing to date, the Blue Demons will carry some confidence into 2017 and the rest of their Big East schedule.
Villanova: The Wildcats finished their non-conference slate unscathed and passed their first Big East test. Now their attention will be focused on two tough road games as they dig into their conference schedule.
Villanova will need to beat Creighton on Saturday to remain atop the AP Top 25 heading into the first week of 2017.
Wright: “I’m always proud of our guys. They’re never going to quit. I know that. They’re never going to be afraid to take the big shot. Jalen (Brunson) going to the foul line, how many times has he done that? Josh (Hart) hitting big shots. We’ve seen it so many times. I’m never concerned about that.”
Leitao: “It was a daunting challenge. I thought, for the most part, we met that challenge. We made our fair share of mistakes but it was a one-possession game at the end. Josh, the All-American that he is, scores 10 points in the last 3 minutes.”
DePaul is off until New Year’s Day, when the Blue Demons host Big East foe St. John’s.
Villanova faces its toughest test so far this season Saturday afternoon in Omaha, Nebraska, where the Wildcats have a Big East showdown with No. 10 Creighton.