WRITTEN BY: TOM HANSLIN @tomhanslin
VILLANOVA, Pa. — Villanova head coach Jay Wright isn’t blind to the pressures and challenges that face a defending national champion and No. 1 ranked team in the nation. But Wright says “a lot of good players” helps lessen the burden.
During the most recent occasions, one of those good players has been senior guard Josh Hart, who on Tuesday night scored 26 points to help the Wildcats cruise past Temple, 78-57 at the Pavilion for the program’s fourth consecutive City Series title and 17th straight win.
“It’s a lot of good basketball players,” said Wright, whose team now sits at 11-0 on the season. “That’s what any top program has, and we’re fortunate to have had these guys on this run, especially (Hart) and (Kris) Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds. This senior class, they’ve been impactful since they were freshmen, and they’ve played with other great players also.”
But Hart’s impact wasn’t truly felt until the second half. After scoring just two points with a minute left in the first half, Hart went on an uncontrollable shooting spree, scoring 22 points in a nine-minute stretch that ended midway through the second period. The 21-year-old was coming off a career-high 37 point performance against Notre Dame on Saturday.
“When I have Coach on me and my teammates are holding me accountable, I’m just focused on making the right play,” said Hart, who made 10-of-14 buckets after missing his first five. “It’s not like coming off a good game, I have to put up 25, or I have to do this or do that. I just try to have a clear mind about things.”
Before ending the half on a quick 9-0 run, Villanova and Temple were in a desperate search for points. At the 13-minute mark, both teams were shooting a combined 7-of-34 from the floor, but in credit to the Wildcats’ defense, Temple committed 12 first half turnovers, which helped place Villanova ahead 29-16 at intermission.
“I thought the end of that first half was big,” Wright said. “We did it off our defense. We couldn’t really score on them. We got a couple of steals, a couple of turnovers there, and got easy baskets.”
Baskets didn’t come easy for the Owls in the second half. Dan Dingle, who scored 8 points in the first twenty minutes, finished the game with just 11. Shizz Alston Jr. led the team with 12 points, while Temple shot 22-of-60 (37%) from the floor and committed a total of 18 turnovers.
But the Owls’ unforeseen non-factor turned out to be Obi Enechionyia. The junior forward, who entered Tuesday averaging 18.6 points per game, was held to only eight points and four rebounds. According to Wright, Enechionyia’s lackluster performance went as planned.
“I think he’s one of the best players in the country, I really do,” Wright said. “We really wanted to try and limit his touches. We were very concerned about him. He’s the kind of guy that can go for 30. That’s probably the best part of what we did tonight, was get in the passing lanes and prevented his catches and when he did catch, we were right there.”
While Hart led all scorers, Wildcats’ Kris Jenkins, Jalen Brunson, and Eric Paschall finished with double-digit points, as the quad combined for 21 made shots on 46 total attempts.
“This is a pretty special group,” Temple head coach Fran Dunphy said of the Wildcats. “Hart and Jenkins have done some unbelievable things as a twosome. They were really good last year. They were really good the year before. They’re going to continue to be good because I think they have a great leader at the helm in [Wright]. It’s up to the rest of us to be a better basketball program as well.”
Temple (7-4) will begin a three-game homestand on Saturday against the NJIT Highlanders (5-6) at the Liacouras Center at 2 p.m.
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