NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Jay Wright doesn’t follow who is in the running for national player of the year. However, the Villanova coach thinks he has the best player in the country in senior guard Josh Hart.
After Saturday’s career-best performance, it would be hard to argue.
“He’s as good as any player in the country is and he’s so complete. He will do whatever it takes to win a game and he has the ability to do it and at the right time,” Wright said. “He got big rebounds at the end of the game. He got offensive rebounds, he scored, he made passes, he made free throws, he defended. He did everything. He’s as complete a player as we’ve ever had.”
Hart scored a career-high 37 points and No. 1 Villanova rallied from an 11-point deficit to beat No. 23 Notre Dame 74-66 on Saturday at the Prudential Center.
“I honestly didn’t know how many points I had. I was just trying to make the right play,” Hart said, later adding, “I want to be great. I want to be as good as Josh Hart can be, and I have no idea how good that is, but I’m going to try and figure out.”
Hart was the only Villanova (10-0) player to score in double figures. He was 10 of 14 from the field, including 3 of 4 from behind the arc, and he made all 14 of his free throw attempts.
Matt Farrell and Steve Vasturia had 18 points each for Notre Dame (9-1), which entered the game as one of eight remaining unbeaten Division I teams.
Villanova took its first lead of the game at 57-56 after Eric Paschall blocked Vasturia’s 3-pointer with 9:15 left. Hart assisted on a layup by Jalen Brunson at 9:09 to give the Wildcats the lead.
The teams exchanged the lead from there until Villanova pulled away in the final minute.
Farrell, a Bridgewater, New Jersey native, made his first six shots including a driving layup at the halftime buzzer that gave Notre Dame a 41-36 lead.
“It was a blast playing here. I think last year I wasn’t able to play that much, so I wasn’t able to play my game,” Farrell said. “I was playing a different kind of role.”
Which includes being a leader on the team, both vocally and statistically.
“He’s a fighter,” coach Mike Brey said. “He’s one tough Jersey guy.”
Down 35-24 with 3:52 left in the first half, Villanova chipped away at the lead.
“We were trying to stop them in the first half. We really were. . They make the right play every time, but we just were not doing a good job in the first half for whatever reason,” Wright said. “And they’re good. That’s the other reason. They’re really good. Nothing different at halftime. We just said we got to try to do what our game plan is. We’re trying and they’re beating us. We have to try harder.”
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish were off to their best start of Brey’s tenure, which began in 2000-01.
Villanova: Dating to their national championship run last season, the Wildcats are tied for the longest winning streak in school history at 16 games. Villanova won 16 straight games in the second half of the 2014-15 season before losing to N.C. State in the NCAA Tournament.
The Wildcats should stay No. 1 as they remain undefeated. Given Notre Dame’s effort, there’s a chance they stay in the poll following its first loss of the season.
NOT SO NEUTRAL COURT
While the game was played in Newark as part of the Never Forget Tribute Classic, the packed Prudential Center was filled with Wildcat fans.
“It was a road atmosphere,” Brey said. “I loved how we handled it. We were poised.”
SLAYING THE CHAMPIONS
Notre Dame is no stranger to defeating national champions. Under Brey, Notre Dame had played the defending champion 11 times, winning seven of those games. The most recent win came last season when they defeated 2015 champion Duke 95-91 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
FORMER BIG EAST FOES
Before Notre Dame left the Big East for the ACC, it played Villanova regularly. The schools have played 36 times with Villanova holding a 19-17 lead.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish get a week to rest before hosting No. 18 Purdue next Saturday night.
Villanova: The Wildcats will complete their circuit with the Big 5 when they host Philadelphia rival Temple on Tuesday night.