BOSTON – Perhaps it was fitting that it was Villanova redshirt sophomore Donte DiVincenzo who had the ball and dribbled out the final seconds of the Wildcats’ 71-59 win over Texas Tech in the NCAA East Region championship.
Maybe DiVincenzo could have slipped the ball to redshirt junior Eric Paschall so he, too, could have high-stepped with the ball on the court at TD Center as the clock expired to send Villanova to the Final Four in San Antonio.
Officially, DiVincenzo and Paschall both were members of the 2016 NCAA championship team. They each have a ring and got the goody bag players get for making a Final Four.
But basketball players want to play, and neither participated in the 2016 tournament.
DiVincenzo injured a foot eight games into his true freshman year and was redshirted. His biggest contribution to the title team was playing the role of Oklahoma All-American Buddy Hield on the scout team in practice before the 2016 national semifinals.
Paschall was ineligible to play because the NCAA mandate required him to sit out a season after transferring from Fordham.
Two seasons ago, DiVincenzo and Paschall were part of something magical, but it wasn’t in the way that true ballers dream of it being.
Sunday was different.
Maybe Villanova (34-4) would have found a different way to get by a gritty Texas Tech squad (27-10) that fought tooth and nail to advance to the first Final Four in the program’s history, but the contributions of DiVincenzo and Paschall led to a path that worked out just fine for the Wildcats.
Paschall was, as Coach Jay Wright said, “a beast” inside. He played a game-high 36 minutes, had 12 points – eight via free throws — and snatched a game-high 14 rebounds, including six at the offensive end.
“One thing I can say, I’ve been saying all day, is just being blessed,” Paschall said. “I’m just blessed to be here. I have great parents. I have a great coaching staff. I have great teammates.”
In a game in which no Villanova player shot that well, DiVincenzo scored 12 points in 26 minutes, had eight rebounds and played like a demon on defense.
The highlight-reel dunk that DiVincenzo threw down and the follow-up dunk he hammered home off a missed three-pointer by Mikal Bridges were jolts of energy for the Wildcats.
The TD Garden vibrated with electricity after each play.
“Donte is like our sixth starter,” Paschall said. “He’s so dynamic. He brings a lot of energy for us. He keeps a great attitude.”
So does Paschall, and that’s why the idea of them playing for a Final Four team is so much more rewarding than having to watch from the sideline.
“It was surreal just being out there,” DiVincenzo said when asked to compare Sunday to 2016. “I had the excitement [in 2016], but it was a different kind of excitement being out there and being able to compete with [Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth].”
“Eric and I didn’t get to play back then, so we kind of share a bond in that. When we hugged each other after the game, it was like, ‘Wow, this really happened.’ ”