NEW YORK (AP) — Josh Hart again made plays all over the court, and this time fourth-ranked Villanova needed every single one of them.
Ryan Arcidiacono hit two free throws with 3.1 seconds left after a questionable foul call, and the Wildcats escaped Providence 63-61 on Friday night to return to the Big East title game for the first time since 1997.
“We kept our composure and found a way to pull it out,” coach Jay Wright said. “That’s what it takes. You’ve got to have guts.”
The Friars’ Kris Dunn, who shared conference Player of the Year honors with Arcidiacono but outplayed him Friday, tied the game with a layup off a turnover with 12.4 seconds remaining. Arcidiacono then drove to the hoop and Ben Bentil, whose steal and assist led to Dunn’s basket, was called for a foul, though replays appeared to show little contact.
“It was a 50-50 call,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “It can go either way. It just didn’t go our way tonight.”
LaDontae Henton, the Friars’ leading scorer, ended a rough night by missing a long 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have won it. Top-seeded Villanova (31-2) will face Georgetown or Xavier in Saturday’s final.
Dunn had 22 points, nine assists and seven rebounds for the fourth-seeded Friars (22-11), who won last year’s Big East Tournament. With Providence trailing 61-57 and 22.3 seconds left, Dunn quickly drove to the hoop to pull the Friars within two. Dylan Ennis then couldn’t get the ball into Hart, and Bentil corralled it and passed to Dunn.
“Let’s face it: He’s the player of the year,” Cooley said of Dunn. “By far the player of the year.”
Little argument that Hart deserved his Big East Sixth Man of the Year award. Just as he did in Thursday’s quarterfinal rout of Marquette, Hart sparked the Wildcats with his all-around game. He scored 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting Friday, offense that was critical with Villanova going just 7 of 23 from the 3-point line.
Hart had two assists, an offensive rebound and a jumper during an 11-1 run early in the second half. After another versatile Wildcats sub, Kris Jenkins, took a charge and hit a 3-pointer, Hart’s free throw gave them a 47-34 lead with less than 14 minutes left.
“There is something special about him,” Wright said of Hart.
Daniel Ochefu had 15 points and 13 rebounds for Villanova, dominating inside during one second-half stretch to keep the Wildcats in front.
Providence trailed 56-49 with less than 5 minutes left when freshman Jalen Lindsey hit a big 3-pointer. The Friars started getting to the foul line to whittle away at the deficit, but they missed three free throws in the final 3:01 that proved costly.
Villanova: Leading scorer Darrun Hilliard had 10 points in the first 11 minutes, then went scoreless for the next 28, saddled by second-half foul trouble. But that next basket was huge, a jumper that put the Wildcats up 61-56 with 66 seconds left. He proceeded to foul out on Providence’s next possession. … Arcidiacono had six points on 1-of-5 shooting and two assists. He received treatment for a rib injury after the game. … For all of Villanova’s regular-season success, the Wildcats had reached just three Big East Tournament semifinals since 1997. … Villanova won its 14th straight to set a school record with 31 victories.
Providence: Henton, who came in averaging 20.1 points, was 2 of 9 from the field, never getting into a rhythm after first-half foul trouble. … Bentil had 12 points and 10 rebounds as Providence scored 19 second-chance points to stay in it.
Arcidiacono hit his only field goal, a 3-pointer, 21 seconds into the second half. Cooley, fuming that Ochefu wasn’t called for a foul on his block of Bentil on the previous possession, immediately called timeout. He spent most of the stoppage glaring at the officials instead of talking to his team. Coincidentally or not, the Wildcats were soon thereafter called for three fouls on one possession, including a pair on Hilliard. That sent him to the bench with three for the game. Bentil wound up making a 3-pointer that pulled Providence within 36-33.
Villanova will face Georgetown or Xavier in Saturday’s final.
Providence will play on in the NCAA Tournament.
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