By Annie Ross
Josh Hart, the Big East’s player of the year, turned an offensive rebound into the game-winning three-point play with 9.6 seconds left and the second-ranked Villanova Wildcats beat Seton Hall 55-53 in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament last nigh5t at Madison Square Garden.
“I think we got outplayed tonight. We just found ways at the end. Great players make great plays,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said.
Hart had 19 points and 10 rebounds, the biggest the last one that moved the top-seeded Wildcats (30-3), the four-time defending regular-season champions, into the championship game against sixth-seeded Creighton.
“I’m not sure what happened but somehow we got the ball in transition,” Hart said of the winning play. “I kicked it to Kris (Jenkins). I think he was kind of surprised he was so open.
“And I just saw him shoot it. Right when I saw him shoot it, I knew when he shot he put a little too (much mustard) on it and I was like you know what, just go get it.
“And luckily it bounced in the perfect spot and I was able to just get it and go with up with.”
Hart’s three-point play on a rebound was the fifth lead change of the final 4 minutes and there were two ties.
There was almost a third as Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado, the nation’s leading rebounder, missed a shot from in close with 1 second left.
Delgado fell to the court and remained there face down as his teammates tried to console him.
“I just missed it. That’s it. I can’t tell you nothing right now,” Delgado said in a quiet locker room. “It’s just something that never happened in my life, the first time. That’s it. I’ve got to live with it.”
Hart went over to Delgado after the game.
“I have so much respect for that program,” Hart said. “We’ve had some battles over the last four years. … They’re tough, physical and very well-coached and I told Angel, ‘You’re a heck of a player and just keep going, you’ve got a bright future.'”
“He definitely showed class,” Delgado said. “I’m never going to forget that moment.”
Seton Hall (21-11) and Villanova met in last year’s championship game and the Pirates prevailed 69-67. This game was just as close but it was a gritty, defensive battle that went right to the buzzer.
“We just had players that gutted it out and defensively we had some great stops,” Wright said. “Eric Paschall on that last play did a great job on Delgado. That’s not easy. It’s purely talented players making plays at the end of the game.”
Villanova, which swept the season series winning both games by an average of 26 points, is trying to take advantage of No. 1 Kansas’ loss to TCU on Thursday to move into the top overall seed for the NCAA Tournament.
Khadeen Carrington’s three-point play gave fifth-seeded Seton Hall a 53-52 lead with 1:43 to play. Both teams came up empty on two possessions until Hart rebounded Jenkins’ 3-point attempt for the winning basket.
Jalen Brunson added 13 points for the defending national champions, who have won 11 of 12. Brunson and Hart scored the Wildcats’ last 20 points of the game.
Desi Rodriguez led the Pirates, who had a five-game winning streak, with 14 points and Carrington and Myles Powell had 11 each. Delgado finished with eight points and eight rebounds. They beat Marquette 82-76 in the quarterfinals.
Villanova, which played a near perfect game in the 108-67 quarterfinal win over St. John’s, struggled offensively in the first half, shooting 26.9 percent (7 of 26), including 3 of 13 from 3-point range.
“Coach, he challenged us,” Hart said. “We know we didn’t play Villanova basketball for the first 20 minutes. … Coach challenged us to play Villanova basketball for 20 minutes.”