NEW YORK (AP) — Villanova is trying to make this magical season one big anniversary party.
Josh Hart had 15 points in his latest brilliant performance off the bench, and the top-seeded Wildcats turned the Big East championship game into a Saturday night blowout by beating Xavier 69-52 for their second tournament title.
Looking to lock up a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs, the fourth-ranked Wildcats (32-2) made an impressive statement much to the delight of a vocal Villanova crowd at Madison Square Garden.
“It’s good times,” said forward JayVaughn Pinkston, a senior from Brooklyn who was given the honor of making the final snip when Villanova cut down the net. “We’ve been talking about this since I got here in ’10. I got in trouble my freshman year. Always promised the coaches I was going to get them a Big East championship.”
After squeezing past Providence 63-61 with the help of a questionable call in Friday night’s semifinals, Villanova had no such trouble against the sixth-seeded Musketeers (21-13).
Dylan Ennis scored 16 points and Darrun Hilliard had 12, sending the deep and balanced Wildcats into the NCAA Tournament on a 15-game winning streak. They’ll find out Sunday if the selection committee rewards them with one of the four top seeds.
“I really don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” coach Jay Wright said. “It’s all matchups.”
In his first Big East final after 14 seasons at Villanova, Wright appeared to wipe tears from his eyes while hugging several key players as they came to the sideline in the waning minutes.
“Coach has been grinding with Villanova for a long time. For us to be finally able to give it to him, we’re happy about that,” Ennis said.
Other than that, this night was nothing short of a festive romp for the happy Wildcats. After the final horn, they rushed onto the court and jumped into each other’s arms.
Exactly a week after celebrating the 20th anniversary of its first Big East Tournament crown, Villanova duplicated the feat. And somewhere, former star Kerry Kittles was probably wearing high socks and smiling.
“It’s a thrill, man,” Wright said. “I don’t know if it’s really sunk in yet.”
Of course, it’s been 30 years since Villanova’s stunning upset of Georgetown to win the NCAA championship — so consider that the next anniversary the Wildcats would like to mark by replicating the achievement.
Jalen Reynolds and Dee Davis each scored 13 points to pace the Musketeers, who were trying to beat the top three seeds in the tournament. Instead, they looked tired and ragged, missing point-blank shots throughout the night.
“We missed too many bunnies around the basket,” coach Chris Mack said. “We were just on our heels. We couldn’t score around the rim. Because of it, it affected our defense.”
Hart, who won the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award, became the first Big East reserve to take home the tournament MVP trophy.
“I’ve got to attribute that to my teammates. They found me when I was open,” he said. “They had total confidence in me to knock down the open shots when they found me.”
Hart shot 7 for 9 and grabbed seven rebounds. He averaged 17.7 points in three tournament games on 21-of-29 shooting (72.4 percent), including 9 for 14 (64.2 percent) from 3-point range.
“He played like a man. He didn’t play like a sophomore — he played like a senior,” Pinkston said.
In a matchup of the conference’s top-scoring teams, Villanova shot 50 percent from the field and held the Musketeers well below their season averages for points and field goal percentage.
Xavier went 2 for 15 from 3-point range and was beaten badly in nearly every facet of the game. In a telling sign of frustration after Hart outhustled his team for a second-half basket, Mack kicked a panel on a digital display just below the scorer’s table, knocking out the E and the I in a GEICO advertisement.
“We weren’t very good tonight. Villanova had a heck of a lot to do with it,” Mack said. “They’re the true definition of a team. … I’ve seen some really good teams, and they’re up there with any of them.”
Xavier: Freshman reserve J.P. Macura sat out with a sprained right ankle, but Xavier hopes he’ll be back for the NCAA Tournament. Macura was injured Friday night in the semifinal win over Georgetown after scoring eight points in the first half. … Reynolds also made the all-tournament team. … The Musketeers also lost both regular-season meetings with Villanova by double digits.
Villanova: The Wildcats increased their school record for wins in a season. … Villanova improved to 2-4 in Big East championship games. Their previous appearance was a 70-58 loss to Boston College in 1997. “There’s kind of a relief for our program,” Wright said. … Hilliard and Ennis also made the all-tournament team.
Xavier: Waiting on an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Villanova: A trip to the NCAA Tournament and likely a No. 1 seed.
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