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Brunson helps No. 4 Villanova hold off Providence, 66-57

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Jalen Brunson did not let his late turnover become the defining moment for No. 4 Villanova against Providence.

The Wildcats’ budding star made up for his mistake with a steal on the other end and scored seven points in the final 1:38 on Wednesday night to help his team hold off Providence 66-57 and sweep the season series from the Friars.

Josh Hart added 17 points and eight rebounds for the Wildcats (21-2, 8-2 Big East), who led by as many as 13 in the second half before Providence turned up its defensive pressure and made a late run.

A long 3-pointer by Friars freshman Alpha Diallo cut the deficit to 59-57 and brought the crowd to its feet.

The Friars had a chance to get closer after Brunson was called for traveling with just under a minute remaining and the Wildcats up by four. But the sophomore guard stole the ball on the other end and completed a three-point play that put the game out of reach.

“After the turnover I just thought, short-term memory,” said Brunson, who scored 15 points in the second half. “Just focus on the next play. Coach preaches that every day and it’s something we’ve got to start believing as a team. It really works. Once you clear your mind and just keep focusing, good things are going to happen.”

Diallo had 18 points for Providence (14-10, 4-7), which was coming off a big road win at Marquette but has lost three of its last four.

Friars coach Ed Cooley said his young team must learn that coming close is not good enough.

“I think this is the third or fourth game we’ve had an opportunity to win,” he said. “There are zero moral victories. They give you 18 opportunities in this league to try and make your run and we’re getting to a critical point here, make or break on the kind of season we want to have.”

The Wildcats never trailed. Kris Jenkins opened the game with a 3-pointer and Villanova ran out to an early 9-2 lead.

The Friars tied the game at 16 after a behind-the-back pass from Diallo to Kalif Young and trailed just 32-29 after a tip-in by Emmitt Holt just before the halftime buzzer.

It was another close call for the Wildcats, who lost by two points at Marquette a week ago, knocking them from the No. 1 spot in the AP poll, and beat Virginia by two at the buzzer on Sunday.

“We are not playing great basketball right now, but we are finding a way to just scrap it out and dig and claw and find ways,” coach Jay Wright said. “That’s a good thing, I guess, but we still have a lot of work to do.”

BIG PICTURE

Villanova: The defending national champions beat the Friars by 10 points at home less than two weeks ago and have won in Providence each of the last four seasons. The Wildcats are 3-2 as visitors in conference play this season, and half their remaining eight games are on the road.

Providence: The Friars came in shooting 38 percent from 3-point range and hit 13 3-pointers in the first meeting with Villanova. They were just 4 of 17 on Wednesday.

SENIOR SUPERLATIVES

Villanova’s senior class of Hart, Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds is 118-15 during their careers, the most wins by a single class in program history.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Villanova likely will stay about where it is in the polls after its two recent close calls.

COLD SHOOTING

Providence’s Rodney Bullock and Kyron Cartwright account for an average of 28 points per game for the Friars. The pair combined for just half that on Wednesday. Bullock shot 3 of 11 and was 0 for 3 from behind the arc. Cartwright was 4 of 11 from the floor and missed both of his 3-point attempts.

UP NEXT

Villanova: The Wildcats head back home to host St. John’s on Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center, then return to campus next Tuesday to face Georgetown at the Pavilion for the first time since 2006.

Providence: The Friars have a full week off before traveling to New Jersey to face Seton Hall next Wednesday.

VIDEO: Jay-Z’s nephew posterizes nation’s No. 1 recruit Marvin Bagley III

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Nahziah Carter is an unsigned 6-foot-6 wing in the Class of 2017.

He’s also Jay-Z’s nephew, and he just so happened to posterize Marvin Bagley III — the clearcut No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2018 — while Hova was in the stands watching him.

NCAA denies extra-year request by NC State guard Henderson

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The NCAA has denied North Carolina State guard Terry Henderson’s request for another year of eligibility.

Henderson announced the decision Friday in a statement issued by the school.

The Raleigh native played two seasons at West Virginia before transferring to N.C. State and redshirting in 2014-15. He played for only 7 minutes of the following season before suffering a season-ending ankle injury.

As a redshirt senior in 2016-17, he was the team’s second-leading scorer at 13.8 points per game and made a team-best 78 3-pointers.

Henderson called it “an honor and privilege” to play in his hometown.

SMU gets transfer in Georgetown’s Akoy Agau

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SMU pulled in a frontcourt player in Georgetown transfer Akoy Agau, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. Agau is immediately eligible for next season as a graduate transfer.

The 6-foot-8 Agau started his career at Louisville before transferring to Georgetown after one season. Spending two seasons with the Hoyas, Agau was limited to 11 minutes in his first season due to injuries. He averaged 4.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game last season.

Coming out of high school, Agau was a four-star prospect but he’s never lived up to that billing in-part because of injuries. Now, Agau gets one more chance to make a difference as he’s hoping to help replace some departed pieces like Ben Moore and Semi Ojeleye.

South Carolina loses big man Sedee Keita to transfer

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South Carolina big man Sedee Keita will transfer from the program, he announced on Friday.

The 6-foot-9 Keita was once regarded as a top-100 national prospect in the Class of 2016, but he never found consistent minutes with the Gamecocks for last season’s Final Four team.

Keita appeared in 29 games and averaged 1.1 points and 2.0 rebounds per game while shooting 27 percent from the field.

A native of Philadelphia, Keita will have to sit out next season before getting three more seasons of eligibility.

Although Keita failed to make an impact during his only season at South Carolina, he’ll be a coveted transfer thanks to his size and upside.

Mississippi State losing two to transfer

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Mississippi State will lose two players to transfer as freshmen Mario Kegler and Eli Wright are leaving the program.

Both Kegler and Wright were four-star prospects coming out of high school as they were apart of a six-man recruiting class that is supposed to be a major foundation for Ben Howland’s future with the Bulldogs.

The 6-foot-7 Kegler was Mississippi State’s third-leading scorer last season as he averaged 9.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Kegler should command some quality schools on the transfer market, especially since he’ll still have three more years of eligibility after sitting out next season due to NCAA transfer regulations. Kegler’s loss is also notable for Mississippi State because it is the second consecutive offseason that Howland lost a top-100, in-state product to transfer after only one season after Malik Newman left for Kansas.

Wright, a 6-foot-4 guard, was never able to find consistent minutes as he was already behind underclass perimeter options like Quinndary Weatherspoon, Lamar Peters and Tyson Carter last season. With Nick Weatherspoon, Quinndary’s four-star brother, also joining the Bulldogs next season, the writing was likely on the wall that Wright wasn’t going to earn significant playing time.