No. 2 Villanova clinches tie for BE regular-season crown
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) Jalen Brunson has more than held his own in replacing Ryan Arcidiacono at point guard for No. 2 Villanova.
The sophomore had 22 points and a career-high 10 assists and the defending national champions clinched a tie for an unprecedented fourth straight Big East Conference regular-season title with a dominating 92-70 victory over Seton Hall on Saturday.
”I am just stepping into the role that I am comfortable in,” said Brunson, who hit all seven of his shots from the field. ”I had a back seat to Archie last year. It’s what the team needed. It worked out pretty well, but I am just stepping into a role Arch had last year and trying to do the best I can.”
The results have been pretty good.
The win was the seventh straight for the Wildcats (26-2, 13-2), and this one was impressive. They shot a season-high 67 percent from the field and used a 22-1 spurt bridging the halves to take command in handing Seton Hall (16-10, 6-8) a lopsided loss that leaves it on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament.
”As I said, when you make shots like that, any team is going to be good,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. ”We haven’t shot the ball that well in a while. I think that was the big difference in the game.”
Kris Jenkins added 22 points, Josh Hart had 19 and Mikal Bridges 15 for Villanova, which led by as many 27 points in a game that was basically over early in the second half.
”We are young and we can get a lot better,” said Hart, one of three seniors on the team. ”I think this team has a better ceiling.”
Khadeen Carrington, who had a career-high 41 points in an upset of No. 20 Creighton on Wednesday, led the Pirates with 22. Angel Delgado had 19 points and 12 rebounds.
Delgado said the difference between beating Creighton and losing to Villanova was that the Wildcats didn’t miss any shots.
”It’s a great team, that’s why they won the national championship, and they probably will be in the final (four) again this year, too,” Delgado said.
Remarkably, Seton Hall was in the game in the waning minutes of the first half, drawing within 31-30 on a 3-pointer by Desi Rodriguez with 2:47 to go.
Brunson, who scored 18 points in the first half, then took over. He hit 3-pointers to ignite and end an 11-1 run to end the half, and he had assists on a 3-pointer by Bridges and a layup by Jenkins.
”I thought we were in good position,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. ”But in the last 3 minutes of the first half, Jalen Brunson flipped the switch.”
Wright said Brunson has a way of controlling games.
”When he sees that we need scoring from that position, he does it,” Wright said. ”When he sees that we need him to organize us, he does it. That’s the beauty of a great point guard. Some guys see it that they need a score but they can’t score, or some guys are scorers but they know they’ve got to run the offense and they struggle with it. But he’s great at both, and I thought that was really apparent today.”
Eric Paschall led the 11-1 run to open the second half, hitting two 3-pointers and converting a three-point play that opened a 53-31 lead.
It was show time for Villanova the rest of the way.
Villanova: The Wildcats lost the Big East Tournament title game to Seton Hall last season, and they have not forgotten. They have blown them out twice this season.
Seton Hall: Willard said the Pirates needed to win two of three on their home stand to have a shot at the NCAA Tournament. After beating Creighton and losing to Villanova, it will come down to Xavier.
OTHER WINNERS. OTHER NUMBERS:
Pittsburgh and Connecticut were the other teams to win three consecutive Big East regular-season titles. The Panthers won in 2002-04, while the Huskies took titles in 1996-98. Pittsburgh is now a member of the ACC. UConn is in the American Athletic Conference.
Villanova’s previous high for shooting from the field was 65.3 percent against Marquette on Jan. 7. Brunson’s previous single-game high for assists was eight against Xavier on Feb. 11.
Delgado has 19 double doubles in his last 20 games.
Villanova returns home to face No. 24 Butler on Wednesday night.
Seton Hall finishes a three-game home stand, playing host to Xavier on Wednesday night.
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