NEW YORK, NY (CBS) — In the end, it felt more like a business trip than a championship celebration for Villanova.
The Wildcats captured the Big East title for the second time in three years as they downed Creighton, 74-60. Villanova led by as much as 20 in the second half and was never threatened down the stretch. After falling one win short of the Big East crown a year ago, many of the Villanova fans in the stands at Madison Square Garden savored the moment. Josh Hart and his teammates took it in stride.
“I kind of felt the same thing,” said Hart. “I think last time, we ran out and stormed the court and everyone was jumping around, but I think part of it was just exhaustion.”
It is understandable if Hart was tired after the victory. The senior wrapped up the tournament MVP award with a 29-point performance. Hart won the Big East MVP in New York two years ago, but Coach Jay Wright sees an even stronger version of Hart in 2017.
“He is better in every aspect of the game,” Wright said. “He is such a better player which is amazing when you think about it. Going into this tournament, I think he put it all together.”
This was the third Big East Tournament title in the history of the program. Both Wright and his players will now turn their attention tot he NCAA Tournament. However, Wright believes the grind of the three-day Big East Tourney actually served as a welcome distraction from a pressure-packed season.
“This tournament was like a break from all of that,” said Wright. “You get here and you know the NCAA Tournament is coming, but you get here and it’s just New York and its just Big East teams. It’s that New York, Madison Square Garden vibe. This was a really nice break. I feel like we were like everybody else here because we weren’t defending champions.”
Villanova’s defense forced 17 Creighton turnovers. The Wildcats hit nine three-pointers with seven coming in the first half. A 14-2 run to close out the opening 20 minutes put Villanova in the driver’s seat. Jalen Brunson added to Hart’s heroics by finishing with 17 points on five-for-seven shooting. The sophomore didn’t want the seniors to come away empty at the conference tournament for the second straight year.
“Coach brought up plenty of times how our demeanor was in the locker room after we lost,” Brunson said. “Coach didn’t want our senior class to go out like that again. We bought into what coach was saying and, obviously, our seniors did as well.”
Now, it’s on to the NCAA Tournament for VIllanova. The Wildcats are expected to be the top seed in the East Region and the number one seed overall. For Kris Jenkins and his teammates, there is still another chapter to be written in the 2016-17 season.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” said Jenkins. “It’s a great win for us and for the program and for our school, but for this team right here, we’re not done. We still have a lot to accomplish.”