Notre Dame gave the defending national champs their best shot, but top-ranked Villanova punched back behind their superstar Josh Hart to stay unbeaten. It is just another day in the life of the defending NCAA Tournament champions.
“Great college basketball game. Villanova Coach Jay Wright said. “The cause is beautiful, great atmosphere, a Villanova crowd. Notre Dame is an outstanding team. Mike [Brey] is one of the best coaches in the country. They are an underrated defensive team.”
Hart led the way with a career-high 37 points on 10-14 shooting from field in one of the most efficient scoring performances we have seen this season in college basketball. His previous career-high was 30 points against Wake Forest earlier this season. After a quiet 19 points in the first half, Hart made all of the big baskets in the second half to lead the Wildcats back from a 41-36 halftime deficit.
“I didn’t know how many points I had, I was just trying to make the right play,” Hart said. “In a game like that we were just battling, battling and giving up everything for my teammates.”
Hart also made all 14 of his free throws and when asked afterward if he had ever done that the star responded “never” as he had a laugh with Coach Wright. Clearly, Hart is continuing to get better as a player.
“We all thought he would develop into this kind of leader,” Wright said. “But I thought it would take a little longer. He is as complete a player as we have ever had.”
Villanova trailed by as many as 11 points and trailed for over 30 of the 40 minutes, but it did not matter. The Wildcats got to the free throw line 22 times and made 20 of them in addition to 40 points in the paint and 11 second chance points. It all played a big part in Nova getting the win.
The Wildcats took their first lead with about nine minutes left on a Jalen Brunson basket to make it 57-56 and were able to take control of the game from there.
Matt Farrell and Steve Vasturia both had 18 points for Notre Dame who really took it to the Wildcats early and temporarily silenced the thousands of Nova fans that made the trip from Philadelphia for the game. Despite, showing a ton of heart themselves, the Irish folded in the final minutes and let it slip away.
For Villanova, they have now won 16 games in a row since losing the Big East Tournament last season and are a perfect 10-0 so far this season. Those 16 in a row ties a program record that was set back in 2013-14.
“When you have a team like this who is tough and you are able to gut one out, down the line when you got to play in March we look back at this game and see that we got this game out,” Hart said.
Three Things We Learned:
1) All you need is Hart
Hart didn’t do a lot for Villanova, he did just about everything. With the team trailing, he showed how big of a leader he can be when it matters most. Anytime ‘Nova needed a basket they went to Hart, anytime they needed to get a stop the team looked to Hart and anytime they needed someone to make it happen, the team turned to Hart and he delivered.
It is safe to say that as long as the Wildcats have Hart, they will do big things this season. Hart is definitely putting himself in the Naismith Player of the Year conversation early in the season and with performances like that one could become a front runner to win it.
2) Notre Dame can play with anybody in the country
Coach Wright said it after the game. Notre Dame is good and deserves that ranking next to their name. The defense for the Irish really showed up, especially in the first half. Notre Dame is a team that can turn you over and make things happen on the other end behind great scorers like Farrell, Vasturia and Bonzie Colson.
Obviously, the ACC is loaded. We knew that already, but Notre Dame is a team that can play with anyone that conference and any program in America. The Irish have the potential to be scary good this season behind that defense.
3) Nova’s defense can make up for a poor Jenkins performance
Kris Jenkins really struggled to get anything going in this game and that is a credit to the Irish defense. Big Smooth had just seven points on 2-9 shooting from the field along with just three rebounds and two assists. To his credit, Jenkins did make a big and-one late in the game to help put the Irish away, but it was far from a typical night for him.
Despite that, Nova’s defense held up and made a huge impact in the final minutes. The Wildcats held Notre Dame to just 27 percent shooting from deep along with four big blocks. Nova held the Irish to just 25 points in the second half and was key to the comeback victory.
Up next for Villanova is another Big 5 matchup in Philadelphia against city rivals Temple as they look to keep the winning streak rolling.