NEW YORK — The Big East tournament championship game for Villanova against Providence Saturday night was nothing like the Wildcats’ games the previous two days. The offenses were anything but free-flowing. The defenses dug in. Bodies crashed to the floors after drives to the baskets, or in search of loose balls.
But the second-ranked Wildcats found clutch offense when needed in overtime, with Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges combining for 10 points in the extra period to secure a 76-66 victory over the Friars and win for Villanova (30-4) its second straight tournament title and third in the last four years.
A sellout crowd of 19,812 at Madison Square Garden yelled itself hoarse for the better part of 2 ½ hours, watching the Wildcats lose a lead of 10 points with 11 minutes, 14 seconds left in regulation and not score a field goal in the final 4:27.
They managed to send the game into an extra period when Brunson, who had missed the front end of a one-and-one with 2:11 left, converted both ends of a one-and-one with 30.1 seconds remaining.
“I approach every free throw the same, make or miss, just concentrate and focus on the basket and myself,” Brunson said. “My teammates always have confidence in me.”
Overtime, the third for Providence (21-13) in as many nights, looked as if it would come down to the wire as well. With the help of a Bridges picking up a loose ball and firing in a three, Villanova was holding on to a 68-66 lead with 1:32 left to play on Alpha Diallo’s layup.
But the Friars wouldn’t score again, with the Cats’ defense holding up. A blocked shot by Bridges on Diallo set up a dunk by Brunson that iced the game.
“Providence, what a tough team, man,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “Either team obviously could have won that overtime game. Hey, we just had a great player pick up a loose ball and shoot a three. It’s obviously not great offense or anything. Providence defensively was unbelievable. Just a really gutty performance, I’m proud of our leadership.”
The leaders came up big. Brunson matched his career high with 31 points — the fourth time he’s scored that many in a game this season — and Bridges, named the tournament’s most outstanding player, added 25.
The rest of the Wildcats scored 20 points and went 7 of 27 from the field but they contributed in other ways. Eric Paschall pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds, pacing a 41-36 advantage on the boards. Omari Spellman added nine rebounds and four blocked shots.
“Eric got so many extra possessions for us,” Wright said. “He was credited with six offensive rebounds but there were a number that he tipped free that we came up with. I think that was a big difference in the game.”
Wright said Providence coach Ed Cooley ran a number of screens offensively that left Spellman on Friars point guard Kyron Cartwright, “the worst possible matchup for us, and he did a great job, really proud of him.”
Diallo led Providence with 22 points and 10 rebounds, and Cartwright added 19 points.
It was quite a difference from the previous two nights, when the Wildcats scored 94 and 87 in winning their two games by a total of 43 points. But Wright and his players will take it, and look forward to Sunday’s NCAA selection show to see about their next opponent. A No. 1 seed is all but assured.
After Saturday night’s grinder of a game, the Cats will be prepared for anything.
“When you get [into a battle] here, if you get it in the first or second round of the NCAA tournament, you just did it a few days ago, and you’re very comfortable in that situation,” Wright said.