PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 21: The Villanova Wildcats men's basketball team greet the fans, as is the tradition at the end of the court, with "Vs" raised for Villanova, after the win over the Providence Friars at the Wells Fargo Center on January 21, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Villanova won 78-68. (Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)
(Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)

Hart scores 25, No. 1 Villanova beats Providence 78-68

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Josh Hart saw an opportunity to drive with the ball and kept attacking the basket instead of shooting jumpers.

Hart scored 25 points, Kris Jenkins had 19 and No. 1 Villanova beat Providence 78-68 on Saturday.

The defending national champion Wildcats (19-1, 7-1 Big East) have won five straight since their only loss at Butler on Jan. 4 temporarily knocked them out of the No. 1 spot in The AP Top 25.

Hart tied a season-low with only two 3-pointers attempted and made both. He scored seven of his 10 baskets on layups. Villanova only tried 17 shots from 3-point range, making seven. The Wildcats entered the game averaging 25 attempts from beyond the arc.

“They do a great job of taking away 3s,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said of Providence. “Our guys did a good job of reading the defense and not taking contested 3s. Josh is as relentless at attacking the basket as anybody I’ve ever seen.”

Hart finished 10 of 16 from the field.

“Just be aggressive is something Coach always says,” Hart said. “If they step up, make the right pass, If they don’t, you score.”

Rodney Bullock had 17 points and Jalen Lindsey added 14 for Providence (13-8, 3-5).

The Friars were coming off consecutive wins over Seton Hall and Georgetown but couldn’t compete with Villanova.

An 8-0 run to start the second half gave Villanova its biggest lead to that point, 43-31. Mikal Bridges got it started with a layup and jumper, Jenkins hit a jumper and Hart made another layup.

“Villanova took advantage of every mistake we made,” Friars coach Ed Cooley said. “The game was lost on the first five possessions of the second half.”

Jalen Brunson and Jenkins nailed consecutive 3s from almost the same spot to extend it to 60-43 midway through the second half and the Wildcats led by 20 at one point.

But Providence wouldn’t go away. Lindsey hit three straight 3s to cap a 13-2 run that got the Friars within 66-57 with 5:05 left.

Then Villanova scored the next three baskets, including a nifty, driving layup by Brunson to put it away.

“They have a great defensive team, they’re gritty and tough,” Cooley said.

Hart hit a 3-pointer to start the scoring and Villanova never trailed. The Friars tied it at 12 midway through the first half before Villanova went on a 10-0 run capped by Bridges’ 3-pointer.

BIG PICTURE

Providence: G Kyron Cartwright scored 12 points before he left the game with a stomach bug in the second half. … Isaiah Jackson also scored 12. … The Friars are 2-14 all-time against the top-ranked team. … They are 38-60 vs. Villanova. .. . The teams meet again on Feb. 1 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.

Villanova: Bridges had 15 points and Brunson added 13. … The team shot 51.7 percent (30 for 58). … The Wildcats played the second of four games at the home of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, who host New Jersey on Saturday night. They are 15-2 at the Wells Fargo Center since the 2012-13 season. … Junior G Phil Booth, who led all scorers with 20 points in the national championship game last April, missed his 17th straight game because of inflammation in his left knee.

SPREADING THE LOVE

“Kris is rare,” Hart said of his teammate. “He’s a gifted scorer who gets more excited at other people’s success and that shows a lot about his character.”

UP NEXT

Providence will host St. John’s on Wednesday.

Villanova visits Marquette on Tuesday.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

Providence gets Shaq to DJ and host Late Night Madness festivities

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 14:  TV personality/retired basketball player Shaquille O'Neal onstage at The Comedy Central Roast of Justin Bieber at Sony Pictures Studios on March 14, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. The Comedy Central Roast of Justin Bieber will air on March 30, 2015 at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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It has become a tradition for schools to pull out all the stops for their madness festivities to open the season and Providence got an interesting former player to host its ceremonies.

The Friars announced on Friday that Hall of Fame big man Shaquille O’Neal will serve as co-host and DJ for the school’s Late Night Madness event that runs on Oct. 15 at Mullaney Gymnasium.

According to the release, O’Neal will perform a DJ set after the event in which he will go by his DJ Diesel moniker. In case you weren’t up to Shaq’s latest musical endeavors, he has slowed down his rap career in favor of becoming an EDM DJ who has performed at a few festivals around the world.

While it’s hard to say how Shaq’s DJ set goes over with the crowd, he’s certainly a big name and a natural entertainer, so this is an intriguing pull for Providence to host this event. With Shaq being an LSU alum, it will also be odd to hear how this whole thing came about and how the Friars were able to get him for the event.

Second half run pushes No. 1 North Carolina into Sweet 16

North Carolina forward Brice Johnson (11) reacts after dunking the ball against Providence guard Jalen Lindsey (21) during the second half of a second-round men's college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
AP Photo/Gerry Broome
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Faced with the task of slowing down the tandem of guard Kris Dunn and forward Ben Bentil, East No. 1 North Carolina relied on its depth to get the job done. Roy Williams’ Tar Heels were in a fight for the game’s first 30 minutes but managed to pull away down the stretch, winning 85-66 to advance to the Sweet 16.

North Carolina’s depth and talent won out, with Dunn and Bentil both having to deal with foul trouble and the latter fouling out with 7:23 remaining. By that point the Friars were already down 14, and the loss of Bentil was essentially the final nail in the coffin for Ed Cooley’s team.

Providence’s bigger issue was that they didn’t get much from the supporting cast outside of Kyron Cartwright’s seven points on the night. No Friar outside of Dunn (29 points), Bentil (22) and Cartwright scored more than two points, with Rodney Bullock and Jalen Lindsay scoring two points apiece. The lack of consistency outside of Dunn and Bentil cost Providence during Big East play, and against a team as good as North Carolina that can’t happen.

North Carolina’s improved defensively down the stretch of this season, and while Providence’s two main cogs combined to score 51 points they were made to work for them all. And when you add in the Tar Heels’ defending of Providence’s other players, it’s easy to see why Roy Williams’ team managed to advance.

Offensively North Carolina performed well, with Brice Johnson finishing with 21 points, ten rebounds and two blocks and four other Tar Heels reaching double figures. As a team they shot 52.5 percent from three and 19-for-21 from the foul line, areas in which they held a clear advantage over the Friars. Next up for North Carolina is No. 5 Indiana in Philadelphia Friday night, and the Hoosiers pose a different test for the Tar Heels on both ends of the floor.

With more scoring options Indiana will be a tougher cover for North Carolina. But with their improved attention to detail, something that wasn’t present in the first half of their win over FGCU, the Tar Heels are capable of adding to their current run of seven straight wins.

Last-second layup gives No. 9 Providence first tourney win since 1997

Providence head coach Ed Cooley speaks to his player during the second half of a first-round men's college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament against Southern California, Thursday, March 17, 2016, in Raleigh, N.C.  (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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It had been nearly two decades since East No. 9 Providence had experienced a win in the NCAA tournament, with their 1997 Elite Eight team being the last to do so. And with Big East Player of the Year Kris Dunn battling foul trouble for much of the night, it appeared as if the streak would continue on for another year. But other players stepped forward down the stretch, and Rodney Bullock’s layup with 1.4 seconds remaining gave the Friars a 70-69 win over No. 8 USC in Raleigh.

Bullock finished the game with 16 points and ten rebounds, stepping up to provide help on the offensive end on a night in which Ben Bentil needed 22 shots to score 19 points and Dunn tallied 16 on 5-for-13 shooting. Providence also received ten points and five assists from guard Kyron Cartwright, who helped the team do just enough to hang around with their floor general on the bench.

But it’s important to acknowledge that the Friars had some help down the stretch from a USC team that was making its first NCAA tournament appearance in five years. Andy Enfield’s young Trojans were in position close the game out at multiple points in the second half, but turnovers, poor shot selection and missed free throws left the door open for a Providence comeback.

After losing 20 games in each of Enfield’s first two seasons at the helm the Trojans won 21 this season. And with just one scholarship senior on the roster, USC can use Thursday’s crushing defeat to push them into a 2016-17 campaign they’ll begin with the expectation of being a contender in the Pac-12.

As for Providence, next up for them is East No. 1 North Carolina, and the Tar Heels will present a far different test for Ed Cooley’s team. Possessing depth, talent and experience, the Tar Heels are one of the favorites to get to Houston and if Providence is to win they’ll need contributions from everyone.

With one star on the bench and the other struggling to find his groove offensively other options stepped forward against USC, which is why the Friars will get their shot at North Carolina.

Kris Jenkins continues to emerge as No. 3 Villanova holds off Providence

Villanova head coach Jay Wright talks to Kris Jenkins (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game during the Big East men's tournament against Georgetown Thursday, March 10, 2016, in New York. Villanova won 81-67. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
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During last season’s Big East tournament, Villanova guard Josh Hart played well enough over the course of three days to earn tournament Most Outstanding Player honors after the Wildcats won the title. Hart, who was a supplementary piece on that team, is now a star and the Wildcats’ leading scorer as they look to win a second straight Big East tournament title.

So who moves into that supplementary role that became vacant thanks to Hart’s progression? Down the stretch of this season that player’s been junior forward Kris Jenkins, and in the Wildcats’ 76-68 win over Providence in Friday’s Big East semifinals he produced another quality performance.

In 34 minutes Jenkins scored a team-high 21 points on 9-for-14 shooting from the field while also dishing out four assists. The 6-foot-6 Jenkins is capable of scoring both inside and out, be it by way of catching passes off of dribble penetration or by putting the ball on the deck himself and driving to the basket. That full array of skills was on display against a Providence team that did not have an answer for him. The Friars had to deal with Ben Bentil being limited by foul trouble, but even with that being the case Jenkins was able to find the spots where he’s most effective.

Having an effective Jenkins on the court makes Villanova that much more difficult to defend, as it gives them a player at the four who can force a mismatch offensively. That was one reason why the Wildcats, who rank among the nation’s best in two-point field goal percentage, scored 40 points in the paint. With more room to operate it becomes easier to find high percentage shots.

Since accounting for just four points and one rebound in a home win over St. John’s February 13 Jenkins has averaged 20 points and nearly four rebounds per game, shooting 53 percent from the field and 45 percent from beyond the arc. And if he can continue on this path while also chipping in defensively, an area in which he’s made strides as the season’s worn on, Villanova will benefit.

This group is capable of not only winning another Big East tournament title, but also progressing deep into the NCAA tournament and the emergence of Jenkins is one reason why. Jenkins wasn’t the only reason why the Wildcats took care of Providence, but he was a major factor in the outcome.

Myles Davis’ triple-double leads No. 8 Xavier past slumping No. 23 Providence

Xavier's Myles Davis (15) drives against Providence's Kris Dunn (3) and Kris Dunn, second from left, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016, in Cincinnati. Xavier won 85-74. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
(AP Photo/John Minchillo)
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Trevon Blueitt scored 17 of his 23 points in the first half as Myles Davis added 11 points, 12 boards and 12 assists — his first career triple-double — as No. 8 Xavier knocked off No. 23 Providence, 85-74, in a game that was never really in doubt.

This was the kind of performance we’ve come to expect out of Xavier. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: This is one of the deepest, most complete and most balanced teams in college basketball. They’re every bit the part of a Final Four contender.

No, the story of this game was Providence.

Specifically, the effort the Friars gave on the defensive end of the floor.

To date, that’s where this team has excelled. We know all about their limitations offensively at this point. They’re a two-man team. It’s Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil … and everyone else. When ‘everyone else’ shows up to play — when Rodney Bullock is a double-double threat that is hitting jumpers, when Kyron Cartwright and Junior Lomomba are creating off the bounce, when the supporting cast is hitting their threes — the Friars can legitimately beat anyone in the country.

They beat Arizona in a game played in southern California. They beat Villanova at Villanova. Those are really, really good wins.

But that hasn’t been the case of late. By the time Providence next takes the court, it will have been a month since the Friars beat someone not named Georgetown. They’ve lost five of their last seven games and suddenly find themselves inching their way closer and closer to the bubble.

And the concern on Wednesday is that they got worked over this badly on a night where they hit 12 threes. That’s what happens when you give up 52 first half points and allow a team to hit seven threes in twenty minutes. That’s what happens when a defense that ranked among the top 25 in the country decides not to show up until after the intermission.

I still think that Providence is a dangerous team as long as they have Dunn and Bentil, but the best way to describe what this team is at the moment is “unraveling”.