It was like a Main Line version of “La La Land.”
Moments after Villanova’s Josh Hart had put a cap on a phenomenal senior season by throwing down a dunk, then draining a longer-than-he-had-any-business-taking-it 3-pointer to both finish off pesky Creighton 79-63 and at the same time finish off the soon-to-be-remodeled Pavilion, the love-in began. The only thing missing was the crowd breaking into song on their way out the doors.
Hart and fellow seniors Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds, the latter who’s missed the last five games with a rib injury, climbed atop a table behind the basket near the student section and started waving goodbye. That prompted even louder cheers than the ones which rang throughout the old building all day.
It had begun when the three seniors marched through those same stands with their parents to center court, then continued throughout a game in which the Blue Jays hung tough with Jay Wright’s weary 28-3 team until the last few minutes.
Finally, though a regular season finale at Georgetown still remains, followed by the Big East tournament, (before at long last they can begin defense of their NCAA crown), it was time to celebrate. Hart, Jenkins and Reynolds stood on that tabletop, basking in the glory, thanking their fans who in turn showered affection on them. And when they hoisted that championship trophy one last time for all to see — the one made possible by Jenkins’ buzzer beater in Houston last April — the place was never louder.
Or, as Wright would say later after everybody had come back to earth: “This building when no one’s in it is the ugliest place. But when you put Villanova people in here on game night I think it’s the best building in the country. “
For Hart and Jenkins, indeed, it was a memorable day — and oh, by the way, a day when Villanova clinched its fourth straight regular season Big East title in the process.
“It was definitely emotional,” said Hart, the likely All-American and a strong candidate for Player of the Year, who scored 16 points and pulled down seven rebounds. “More so at the beginning with our parents. We’re celebrating them, giving them all the credit for raising us to be men of character. After that it was the game. Just get down to business and play 40 minutes of Villanova basketball. Then after the game it was great to do all that.”
Jenkins, who did most of his damage inside while scoring 15, except for his lone 3-pointer from the corner that keyed a 16-4 run to build a 59-49 cushion, seconded that to a degree.
“This is more so for families and the student body,” said Jenkins, who’s hoping a week off to rest will cure his long range shot, which has been off of late. “But we’re not done yet. We still have a lot we want to accomplish this season.”
Yet Wright now concedes what was obvious to everybody. They’ve been running on fumes the last few weeks, essentially playing a six-man rotation while Reynolds has been down.
“Are they tired? Yeah,” admitted Wright, whose club went away from its norm by going for high percentage shots at the basket and drawing fouls, shooting 25-for-36 inside the arc, 69.4 percent and just 4-for-19 on threes. "Are they worn down some? Yeah. But it doesn’t matter. Other teams got stuff, too. It’s not the reason you lose. Whether you’re tired or not doesn’t matter, you’ve got to get it done, and we got it done. It’s senior leadership. Talented players and senior leadership.”
Seniors who’ve never lost back-to-back games.
“Nothing changes whether we win or lose,” insisted Hart, who inexplicably has lost his stroke at the line the last two games, going just 1-for-9. “We just focus on getting better. We know this is a journey and we’ve just got to be dialed in on attention to detail. I never really thought about that [never losing two straight] and we’re never gonna talk it about now. But in 20-30 years we’re gonna be bragging a lot.”
Which leaves one question unanswered on what has been already been a remarkable journey. Will they also be bragging then about becoming the first team since Billy Donovan’s 2007 Florida Gators to win back-to-back titles?