By Lewis Gould
Was this a hiccup or the first sign that Villanova is playing with the fire of a seven-man rotation?
Josh Hart scored 25 points and Jalen Brunson added 13 as the No. 1 Wildcats barely held off DePaul 68-65 on last night at the Pavilion for their 19th straight win.
The Cats (13-0, 1-0 Big East) looked stale, but thanks to Hart, they survived. The senior swingman scored 10 points in the final 3:06, including a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 9.5 seconds left that gave Villanova a 66-62 lead.
“I just wanted to be aggressive,” Hart said. “Coach puts me in the position, and my teammates put me in that position.”
DePaul’s Billy Garrett Jr. missed a clean look for a tying 3-pointer at the buzzer.
After a sloppy first half that featured nine turnovers, Villanova gained control of the game following a 14-6 run that gave the Wildcats a 51-39 lead with 16:41 to go. But the Blue Demons responded with a 14-0 run to take a 53-51 lead.
From there, Hart made sure the Wildcats remained undefeated and their home win streak reached 44 games.
With the game tied at 56, Hart, on three consecutive possessions, hit a midrange jumper, converted a three-point play and made two free throws to keep pace with the Blue Demons, who wouldn’t go away.
“That’s what veterans are about,” DePaul coach Dave Leitao said. “That’s what All-Americans are supposed to do.”
The Wildcats, who led for 33:05, face their biggest test of the year Saturday against No. 10 Creighton.
“We’re going to learn a lot from this,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. “We hope we don’t need wake-up calls.”
Tre’Darius McCallum had 19 points for the Blue Demons (7-7, 0-1). Garrett added 17, and Eli Cain had 14.
DePaul hung in the game despite missing all nine of its attempts from beyond the arc in the first half. The Blue Demons forced nine Villanova turnovers in the opening 20 minutes and 14 in the game.
“Our guys showed great heart,” Leitao said.
Villanova will face its toughest test so far this season on Saturday afternoon in Omaha, Nebraska, where the Wildcats have a Big East showdown with No. 10 Creighton.