Senior guard Josh Hart has been riding a wave of fantastic performances throughout the first two weeks of December. On Tuesday night, that wave rushed into the Pavilion as Hart turned in another monster night to lead the Wildcats over Temple, 78-57.
The reigning U.S. Basketball Writers’ Association National Player of the Week followed up his career game last Saturday against Notre Dame with 26 points on 10-of-19 shooting against the Owls. He also had three of Villanova’s eight steals, part of a defensive effort that forced 18 total turnovers.
“I think they key is, he doesn’t lose his composure,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said of Hart’s performance. “There’s a lot of guys that would come off a 37-point game and have two in the first half and start panicking. He just keeps making the right play and let it come to him with his defense. That’s what makes him a great player.”
Hart averaged 18.1 points per game against Big Five opponents in 2016 and will finish his career with an average of 13.1 points in such games. He and fellow seniors Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds became the first four-year class in the history of Big Five basketball – 60 years – to go a perfect 16-0.
“It’s an honor, definitely humbling,” Hart said, after the game. “The Big Five tradition, we have great teams every year. It’s something that 10, 20, 30 years down the line, we’ll look back and think it’s pretty cool, but right now there’s no time to celebrate. We need to get ready for our next game against American.”
The one game at a time approach has done well for Hart and the ‘Cats so far. It was evident that he was past his career-day against Notre Dame and locked in on getting it done on Tuesday night against Temple.
After just four total misses against the Fighting Irish, Hart started Tuesday night’s game by missing his first five field goal attempts. Both teams struggled to produce much offense in the game’s opening 12 minutes as the score read 11-8 in favor of the ‘Cats with 7:57 to go before halftime.
Villanova closed the half on a 9-1 run, but they still only managed to score 29 points, their lowest first half point total of the season. Luckily, they held Temple to just 16 points, the fewest amount the ‘Cats have allowed in any half this year.
The scoring picked up in the second half for both sides, first for Villanova. The ‘Cats stretched a 10-point lead out to a score of 55-33 with 11 minutes remaining. From there, they slowly put the Owls away and clinched their 17th victory in a row.
Jenkins helped spark ‘Nova’s surge in the second half with by making a trifecta of three-pointers. He had a total of four from beyond the arc on six attempts that accounted for all of his twelve points. Freshman guard Jalen Brunson rounded out a trio of ‘Nova starters in double figures, finishing with 13 points.
“We let them loose,” Temple head coach Fran Dunphy said. “Jenkins made a couple of threes, when we talked so much about not letting him get his feet set. Josh Hart’s threes in the second half were daggers for us and we didn’t have a whole lot of time to respond.”
Aside from the starting veterans, the Wildcats also got some help from redshirt sophomore Eric Paschall, who matched Jenkins’ 12 points off the bench.
This is the first time in three games that the ‘Cats have had a double-figure scoring output from a reserve player. With junior guard Phil Booth still sidelined, the quality minutes logged by Paschall and redshirt sophomore Donte DiVincenzo were a big help to the Wildcats.
Villanova will now have an entire week off before its final game before Big East play. It will return to action next Wednesday against American at the Pavilion. Tip-off for that game is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.