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Plenty of Josh Hart helps No. 2 Villanova win Big East title

By The Sports Xchange
Villanova University's Josh Hart (3). Photo by John Sommers II/UPI.. | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/dfd2ac084cf5dd2ffbbcbb4e20b1993e/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Villanova University's Josh Hart (3). Photo by John Sommers II/UPI.. | License Photo

Cutting down nets is becoming a common practice for Villanova.

One season after winning the national championship, the Wildcats responded with a Big East regular-season title for the fourth straight year capped by their second conference tournament championship in three years.

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Josh Hart had 29 points and six rebounds as second-ranked Villanova defeated Creighton 74-60 on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York.

"We wanted to set the tone," Hart told reporters after the game. "We wanted to play 40 minutes of Villanova basketball."

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Jalen Brunson scored 17 points and Kris Jenkins added 14 for the top-seeded Wildcats (31-3).

Hart made 9 of 18 shots from the field, including 4 of 8 from 3-point territory, and 7 of 8 free throws on his way to being named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player for the second time in his career.

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Hart is never concerned with personal awards.

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"Just being a winner," Hart said. "That's all I care about. No accolades for me. I don't care about that. I care about my brothers and winning."

Villanova had advanced to the Big East tournament title game for the third season in a row. It became only the fifth team in conference history to move to the championship game in three consecutive seasons. Louisville, Connecticut, Pittsburgh and Syracuse are the others to accomplish the feat.

The Wildcats routed eighth-seeded St. John's 108-67 in the quarterfinals and edged fifth-seeded Seton Hall 55-53 in the semifinal round on Friday before closing out sixth-seeded Creighton for the title.

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Thanks go in large part to Hart.

"That's why this team is as good as it is and we're getting better," Jenkins said of Hart. "When your best player is the one getting better and he's the one who's leading out there, he makes everybody else follow suit."

Villanova is now 3-5 all time in the Big East tournament final, with its other championships in 1995 and 2015.

Marcus Foster and Cole Huff led Creighton with 13 points apiece and Justin Patton added 10.

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Despite the loss, the third of the season against the defending national champion Wildcats, the Bluejays (25-8) are a lock for an NCAA Tournament berth.

"I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how well that Kris and Josh and Darryl (Reynolds) ... what great ambassadors they've been for the Big East Conference," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. "The Villanova program in general, for a basketball purist like myself, the way they won it last year, team basketball, and just the way they carry themselves.

"It starts at the top with Jay, obviously. But that senior class, what they've accomplished is incredible."

Villanova didn't relax after building a 14-point halftime lead.

When Hart drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key, the Wildcats went ahead 46-26.

After Creighton got within 57-45, Hart and Brunson each knocked down two free throws to quickly extend Villanova's lead back to 16 at 61-45.

The Bluejays never cut the lead within double figures in the final four minutes.

Villanova broke open a close game early with Hart scoring 11 straight points for a 22-17 lead.

Hart stayed aggressive and the Wildcats went on a 8-0 run to take a 30-20 advantage. Hart and Brunson combined for 26 points in the first half as Villanova went into the locker room with a 36-22 lead.

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It was the second consecutive game that Villanova held its opponent below 30 points in the first half.

NOTES: The 35th Big East tournament final at Madison Square Garden was a complete sellout. ... Creighton had 10 turnovers in the first half and wound up with 17, tying a season high. ... The Bluejays are 5-4 all time in the Big East tournament. ... Villanova was 15 of 19 from the free throw line. ... Creighton has at least 25 wins for the sixth time in program history. ... Villanova G Jalen Brunson scored in double figures in all three Big East tournament games. ... Brunson and G Kris Jenkins were named to the all-tournament team.

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