BUFFALO–After a shaky start, top-seeded Villanova dominated the second half in route to a 76-56 victory over 16th-seeded Mount St. Mary’s in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament.
Redshirt freshman Donte DiVincenzo led the Wildcats with 21 points and a career-high 13 rebounds to record his first career double-double. Sophomore guard Jalen Brunson praised DiVincenzo for his stellar play in the first half.
“When Donte came in off the bench he did a great job sparking us with some energy and defensive rebounds,” Brunson said. “It felt like he was getting every rebound out there and gave us a little bit of energy.”
When Mount St. Mary’s asserted itself in the first half, DiVincenzo and Brunson weathered the storm. Brunson scored 10 of his 14 points in the first half on 5-of-8 shooting, leading the team through a tough stretch when senior Josh Hart had to sit because of foul trouble.
After trailing for most of the half, Villanova went into the locker room up 30-29 in a game that felt as though they didn’t deserve the lead. The Mount St. Mary’s faithful, along with newly converted fans that were waiting for the Wisconsin-Virginia Tech nightcap, let their voices be heard in a surprisingly close first half.
“They really outplayed us,” head coach Jay Wright explained. “They were better prepared, Jamion [Christian] had them better prepared than I did, and they played better. They deserve a lot of credit.”
That feeling quickly changed when the teams returned to the floor for the second half.
Villanova jumped out to a 43-31 lead just five minutes into the half on a 13-2 run. From there, the Wildcats could hardly look back, as they kept Mount St. Mary’s at bay the rest of the way. Their lead never dipped below double digits.
Besides DiVincenzo and Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Josh Hart also played a role in Villanova’s resurgent second half. Bridges contributed 13 points, three rebounds, two blocks and a steal to help the ‘Cats get out in transition. Statistically, Hart’s 11 points, five rebounds, two steals and a block were impressive, but how he controlled the tempo of the game was more impressive. The Player of the Year candidate returned to his dominant form in the second half, leading the Wildcats to the Second Round.
“[Hart], in the second half was fresh, played really well, played well defensively,” Wright said. “He’s a huge part of what we do.”
The Mountaineers were led by freshman guard Miles Wilson who scored 22 points on 7-of-20 from the floor. Wilson also corralled seven rebounds and added a steal in the tough loss to the defending National Champs.
Even after the tough loss, the Mountaineers’ head coach believes his team is headed in the right direction.
“I’m really proud of our group,” Christian said. “We’ve got a lot of things we can work on and improve, but we’re expecting to learn from this experience like we’ve done time and time again and have an opportunity to improve on it.”
The Wildcats will return to action on Saturday, Mar. 18 against the winner of the Wisconsin-Virginia Tech matchup.