NEWARK – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange) – As a candidate for National Player of the Year and the Big East Conference’s pick for Pre-season Player of the Year, Josh Hart understandably gets most of the attention for No. 2 Villanova. But sophomore point guard Jalen Rose makes a fine Robin to Hart’s Batman.
On Saturday in the Wildcats’ 92-70 win over Seton Hall at the Prudential Center, Brunson became the first player in the last 20 seasons to score at least 20 points with 10 assists without missing a shot from the field goal.
Brunson scored 22 points, was 7 of 7 from the floor and 6 of 7 from the line to go with a career-high 10 assists, helping the reigning national champion Wildcats (26-2, 13-2 in the Big East) earn at least a share of the Big East title for a record fourth-straight season.
Villanova is three games ahead of No. 24 Butler (9-5) in the loss column with three games to play, including a meeting with the Bulldogs on Feb. 22.
“(Brunson) just controlled the game,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “When he sees that we need scoring from the position he does it and when he sees we need him to organize us he does it.
“That’s the beauty of a great point guard. Some guys see that they need to score, but they can’t score. Some guys are scorers and know they need to run the offense, but they struggle with it. He’s great at both and I thought it was really apparent today.
“(Brunson) is not flashy. He doesn’t dunk on people, he doesn’t make fancy passes. He just runs the team.”
Kris Jenkins added 22 points, Hart had 19 and Mikal Bridges added 15 points for Villanova.
Khadeen Carrington led Seton Hall (16-10, 6-8) with 22 points.
The Wildcats were 12 of 21 (57 percent) from beyond the arc in recording their seventh win in a row. Villanova shot 67 percent from the floor in what Wright called the team’s best performance of the season.
“When you make shots, you’re probably going to win most games,” Wright said. “That was the big difference in the game.”
Seton Hall led for only 4:50 early in the first half.
The Pirates was the only Big East team to defeat Villanova in each of the first three seasons since the conference was reconfigured in 2013-14.
Seton Hall dropped a 76-46 decision to Villanova in January at the Pavilion.
Darryl Reynolds, Villanova’s best interior defender, missed his third straight game because of a rib injury, and that helped Seton Hall’s 6-10 forward Angel
Delgado record his nation-leading 21st double-double, with 19 points and 12 rebounds.
Villanova led by double-digits the entire second half, building its largest margin to 69-42 with 12:13 remaining.
The Wildcats opened the second half on a 15-2 run in only 3:11 to extend their lead to 57-33.
Hart picked up two fouls in a span of 18 seconds and left the floor with Villanova leading 27-21 at the 4:52 mark. The Pirates got to within 29-27 on Carrington’s 3-pointer, but the Wildcats went on a 13-4 surge to end the half with a 42-31 cushion.
“That’s big,” Wright said of the run. “We had Josh (Hart) in foul trouble. We got some good defensive stops and got out in transition. It really came off of our defense.”
Brunson, whose father Rick played in the NBA for nine seasons, scored eight points and recorded two assists in that sequence, finishing the half with 18 points.
“We locked in defensively,” Brunson said. “We played Villanova basketball. As long we’re sharing the ball, playing defense and rebounding, we should win.”
Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said the late first half blitz was the defining moment.
“I thought we were in a good position, but in the last three minutes of the first half, (Jalen) Brunson flipped a switch and hit a tough step-back 3, then split the pick-and-roll and hit (Mikal) Bridges in the corner for a 3 and that took a little momentum out of our sails,” Willard said.
Seton Hall connected on only 3 of 12 3-point shots in the first half.
The Pirates hit four of their first six shots, then went into a cold spell for 3:40, going 1 for 7, allowing the Wildcats to take a 17-11 lead with 11:12 left in the half.
NOTES: The crowd of 16,733 was the largest for Seton Hall at the Prudential Center. … Villanova has defeated Big East opponents by a league-leading 13.7-point margin. … Villanova freshman F Dylan Painter played 13 minutes for the second straight game, hitting his only shot. … Seton Hall’s Desi Rodriguez (16.5 points), Khadeen Carrington (16.2) and Angel Delgado (15.6) rank in the top nine in scoring in Big East play. … Seton Hall G Khadeen Carrington’s 41 points against Creighton on Wednesday tied for 14th all-time in a Big East Conference game, and is only the 26th time that anyone has scored 40 or more in a conference game. … Delgado leads the nation in rebounding and is second in double-doubles and offensive rebounds. … Villanova leads the Big East in free throw percentage (80.5)