Josh Hart scored 15 of his 29 points during an electrifying eight-minute span late in the first half and No. 2 Villanova overcame a sluggish start to beat Creighton, 74-60, Saturday in the Big East Tournament championship game at a sold-out Madison Square Garden.
Villanova, which probably would have been a No. 1 seed even with a loss, solidified its hold on a No. 1 seed in the NCAA bracket, which will be announced Sunday evening.
The game was tied at 11 with 10 1/2 minutes left, but Villanova closed the first half on a 25-11 run to build a 36-22 halftime lead.
Hart and Jalen Brunson combined for 23 of those 25 points. Brunson scored eight of his 17 in the final five minutes of the first half, including an Iverson-esque fake crossover layup in traffic with 3 1/2 minutes left that brought the house down.
Creighton's game is banging three-pointers. The Bluejays rank 11th in NCAA Division 1 at 40.4 percent from three. But they shot just 12 percent from three in the first half (2 for 12) and 25 percent in the game (6 for 24), with two of the makes coming in the final moments.
Villanova led by as many as 20 points at 46-26 five minutes into the second half. Creighton -- which was ranked as high as No. 7 in January -- closed to within 12 with the ball with seven minutes left but got no closer.
What it means
The Big East Tournament title is the third all-time and the second in the last three years. Villanova beat UConn, 94-78, to win the 1995 tournament and also won the 2015 tournament with a 69-52 win over Xavier.
Villanova overall is 3-5 in the championship game, with the losses coming in 1981 and 1988 to Syracuse, 1982 to Georgetown, 1997 to Boston College and last year to Seton Hall.
Creighton fell to 0-2 in Big East Tournament Championship Games. The Bluejays lost to Providence 65-58 in the 2014 title game -- their first season in the Big East.
Villanova improved to 31-3. The 31 wins marks the third-most in school history behind 35 last year and 33 in 2015.
Creighton fell to 25-9. The Bluejays are 5-6 after opening the season with a 20-3 record.
The win was the third this year for Villanova over Creighton. The Wildcats won 80-70 in December in Omaha, Nebraska, and 79-63 at the Pavilion two weeks ago.
Hart joined Patrick Ewing of Georgetown and Peyton Silva of Louisville as the only two-time MVPs of the Big East Tournament. In 10 lifetime games in the Big East Tournament, Hart averaged 18.8 points and 5.5 rebounds and shot 61 percent from the field.
Stat of the day
Hart's 29 points increased his career scoring total to 1,891 and moved him past Ed Pickney (1,865) to move into the all-time Villanova top 10 in scoring. Next on the list for Hart is Randy Foye, who scored 1,966 points.
By the numbers
Freshman Donte DiVincenzo set a career high with eight rebounds. He added five points and two steals … Kris Jenkins scored 14 points for Villanova but shot 2 for 6 from three and 7 for 34 from three in his last six games … Cole Huff led Creighton with 13 points … Creighton didn't attempt a foul shot in the game's first 30:26. The two teams combined for just two free throw attempts -- both Villanova makes -- during that stretch … Creighton didn't make a free throw until 7:21 left in the game … Villanova made seven of its first 14 threes but only two of its last seven … The 29 points are Hart's third-most.
The game was tied at 11 with 10 1/2 minutes to go when Hart hit three threes and a mid-range jumper for 11 points in the span of 2:45. That started a 19-9 run that gave Villanova the lead for good.
Villanova, which presumably had a No. 1 seed locked up when it beat Seton Hall Friday night to reach the finals, awaits its NCAA Tournament assignment Sunday evening.
As a No. 1 seed, Villanova is expected to be headed to Buffalo, where first-round games are scheduled Thursday. With a win over the No. 16 seed, Villanova would play for a berth in the Sweet 16 on Saturday.