SAN ANTONIO, Texas – The goal of Donte DiVincenzo all season as Villanova’s sixth man was to bring energy to the team once he took the floor.
Monday night, on the biggest stage in college basketball, he brought an incandescent energy that powered the Wildcats into the history books.
DiVincenzo scored 31 points, a record for a non-starter in the NCAA championship game, and the Cats rolled over yet another opponent on their run to their second national title in the last three years with a 79-62 victory over Michigan before a crowd of 67,831 at the Alamodome.
The Wildcats finished the season with 36 victories, a program record for the most in a single season, against only four losses. They won all six NCAA games by double digits, an average margin of 17.6 points.
The career high established by DiVincenzo, a 6-foot-5 redshirt sophomore out of Wilmington, marked the most points in a final since Seton Hall’s John Morton scored 35 points in 1989 against Michigan, coincidentally the only national championship won by the Wolverines.
DiVincenzo shot 10 of 15 from the floor and 5 of 7 from three-point range, and also contributed five rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots, one a hellacious two-hand rejection of Charles Matthews. He also was the last guy to dribble the ball for Villanova, heaving the basketball skyward at the buzzer.
DiVincenzo, who redshirted during the 2015-16 and saw the Wildcats’ last championship game while sitting on the bench wearing a suit, said Michigan tried to make things difficult for Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, the team’s two top scorers.
“Honestly, it was a credit to (my teammates),” he said. “They were just making the right play. They were trying to be aggressive and they were finding me. Omari (Spellman) was setting great screens and getting me open.
“I was just trying to get myself going defensively. I was trying to bring energy to those guys and get those guys started defensively because I knew that Michigan wasn’t going to quit.”
Jalen Brunson, who was limited by foul trouble to 28 minutes and scored just nine points, said the display by DiVincenzo did not surprise him.
“He’s worked so hard to make himself the best player he can be every day,” Brunson said. “This is very special. This is nothing surprising for us. We’ve seen Donte do this multiple times this year. I’m just so thankful he was able to have one of these nights tonight.”
The Villanova defense limited the Wolverines (33-8), the West Region champion, to just 3 of 23 shooting from three-point range, and 43.6 percent from the floor overall.
Mikal Bridges added 19 points for the Wildcats. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman led Michigan with 23 points and Moe Wagner added 16.
DiVincenzo’s big first half carried Villanova out of a seven-point hole midway through the first half. He went 7-of-10 from the floor in the opening 20 minutes including 3-of-4 shooting from three-point range, sparking Villanova to a 37-28 lead. The rest of the team went 7 of 21 from the field and 1 of 9 from three in the opening half while accounting for 19 points.
The Wildcats extended their lead to as many as 18 early in the second half, with a three-pointer by Bridges giving them a 51-33 lead with 14:37 left to play. But Brunson went to the bench with 10:51 to play after picking up his fourth personal foul and Michigan showed some life, cutting the deficit to 56-44 on Matthews’ layup with 9:08 remaining.
DiVincenzo, however, then stepped up and drilled back-to-back three-pointers 52 seconds apart to grow the margin back to 18 and later hit both ends of a 1-and-1. Bridges then took over with a pair of threes and two free throws to get the lead up to 22, 74-52, with 3:50 remaining.
“We just feel so blessed that we were put in this position to have each other, have guys like this to play with,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “We’ve been able to stay healthy this year basically, especially toward the end. We just feel humbled and blessed to be in this position.”
As for two national championships in three years, an achievement that rockets him to a status among the top coaches in the game, Wright said it’s tough to wrap his hands around it.
“When we got to the 2009 Final Four and we lost the first game, I thought that was my shot,” he said. “I was happy. I was fine. Then when we won the title, I thought, ‘All right, I’m happy and now I just want to make sure the guys graduate and the team stays competitive.
“But this is out of my comprehension.”