Villanova gets pushed but stands the test of Providence to stay on 1 line

NEW YORK — It felt like an old Big East game.

Which is to say it was a modern Big East game.

“That was old-school Big East,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “That was fun.”

It was. Because this conference still brings the roars inside Madison Square Garden. Top-seeded Villanova (29-4) held off a gutty Providence team on Friday night, winning 76-68 to advance to Saturday’s championship game. The upshot of the outcome: Nova is still clearly on the 1 line right now.

Kris Jenkins had another good night — he’s been getting better and better — with 21 points. Villanova shot 53 percent. It looked the part … for the most part.

Providence, meanwhile, was done in, to some respect, by not having Ben Bentil at its full disposal. A night removed from Bentil putting up a beast of a game — 38 against Butler — Bentil had just three points to go with six rebounds and a foul-out. The stud sophomore was disqualified from the game with 9:40 remaining.

“I thought Ben took himself out of the game … with some uncharacteristic fouls,” PC coach Ed Cooley said.

Villanova held Bentil and Kris Dunn to 2-of-13 from the field.

“That was the best we’ve ever done, especially against two great players,” Wright said.

Despite that, Providence made a run, cutting Villanova’s lead to two with six minutes remaining.

“If you want to get a player to run your team and build your team around at the point guard position, there’s nobody better,” Wright said of Dunn’s ability at the next level. “All our players, our team, we have great respect for him.”

But Villanova’s too well-rounded. And Dunn (nine points, seven assists, three turnovers) couldn’t carry the Friars to the upset. He had an unforced turnover late, which took air out of PC’s rally.

Villanova was jolted — in a good way — by the play below. Ryan Arcidiacono essentially went Derek Jeter. This happened maybe eight feet from me. After he stood up, Arcidiacono calmly said, “Let’s go” to his teammates.

“I loved it,” Arcidiacono said of the play. “I saw Kris Dunn back there by himself, so I just had to make a play on the ball.”

He did. Arcidiacono was the most important player on the floor on Friday. Though Jenkins was very good, too.

Cooley said afterward that his team made too many “critical, critical” mistakes. And obviously admitted that his squad is so different without Bentil on the floor. PC’s lack of composure was clear, and the fouls were such an issue. It’s clear that Providence will need Bentil and Dunn, who comprise one of the best 1-2 punches in the sport, to be available if it’s going to have a run into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

Villanova will play the winner of Xavier-Seton Hall.

Providence falls to 23-10. The Friars are safely in the tournament.

Villanova’s defense was mostly reliable. The Wildcats are aiming for a third No. 1 seed under Jay Wright. (USATSI)


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