The Pavilion was abuzz at the start of today’s game vs. St. Joseph’s, with the two Big Five schools playing their annual Holy War matchup. While Villanova is the No. 2 ranked team in the country, St. Joe’s is rebuilding in the wake of losing their top three scorers from last season.
That loss was clear in St. Joe’s performance, who fell to the Wildcats 88-57. The inexperienced Hawks kept the game close early on, leading 27-24 at one point after a deep Lamarr Kimble three-pointer. However, Villanova’s dynamic duo of Hart and Jenkins proved to be too much for St. Joe’s, with the Wildcats going on a 20-4 run to end the first half.
NBA scouts from multiple teams were in attendance, including the Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors. The Wildcats put on a show for them offensively, knocking down 16-of-34 (47.1 percent) of their threes and shooting 32-of-62 (51.6 percent) from the field. Postseason hero Kris Jenkins led the scoring for Villanova, finishing with 20 points–with 12 of them coming from beyond the arc.
However, most of the postgame praise went to preseason All-American Josh Hart–who tallied his first career triple-double, scoring 16 points, grabbing 11 rebounds, and dishing out 10 assists. It was the first time a Wildcat had achieved such a feat since Harold Pressley obtained one in 1986.
“I’m not sure what’s gotten into me,” Hart said, smiling. “I love seeing my teammates score. Over the last week or two, coach has told me to be more aggressive, probably the only time he’s ever had to tell me that. My mindset today, I came in wanting to be aggressive, but when my teammates are open, I just want them to succeed.”
Hart was able to use his superior size for a guard to create space on his shots, and his stellar play in the first half opened up the court for the Wildcats’ 3-point barrage, led by Jenkins and sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson. During Villanova’s 20-4 run that changed the tide of the game, Hart either scored or assisted on 11 of the 20 points.
“I’ve got to be careful, because I still have to coach him for a little bit,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said of Hart’s play. “He’s so complete in every way, he’s the best competitor out there, if not for Kris [Jenkins] he’d be the best shooter on the team. He’s one of the best finishers in the country, and he’s a great decision maker. I just believe he’s so complete that he’s going to be a great player at the next level because of that”.
Redshirt freshman sparkplug Donte DiVincenzo got starter’s minutes in place of Phil Booth, who was. out with an ankle injury.
DiVincenzo relished in the extra minutes, finishing with a double digit point total for the second straight game. DiVincenzo was one of six Wildcats to score 10 or more, with Hart, Jenkins, Darryl Reynolds, Jalen Brunson, and Eric Paschall all chipping in for their fair share of the scoring load.
However, the real story of the day was the Wildcats’ defensive effort. St. Joe’s shot just 21-of-63 (33.9 percent) from the field, nearly 10 percent lower than their season mark, and shot an even worse 25 percent in the second half.
The Hawks’ leading scorer, guard Shavar Newkirk, was a prime example of these struggles, finishing with 11 points on 3-of-15 shooting from the field.
“The plan was for them to go over us, not through us,” Hawks’ head coach Phil Martelli said. “We never hurried them, we never made them go faster. We wanted to play them in segments, and we weren’t able to do that.”
Villanova took a 44-31 lead going into the halftime.
The difference in experience of returning players was throughout the game.
“From our Villanova game last year, they had 60 points [scored by players] coming back, and we had 16,” Martelli said.
With the win, Villanova moves to 8-0. The Wildcats will continue Big Five action on Tuesday night against La Salle at the Palestra.