The sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd made the sort of noise that rattles in your brain long after the game ends.
At times, the players on the Villanova bench appeared to be in agony, then ecstasy — standing or kneeling, as if to will the ball one way or another.
And Providence coach Ed Cooley was so animated on the sideline, he literally split his pants. There was no time to change, and he did not care, and for a chunk of Saturday’s Big East Tournament championship game, he wore two Gatorade towels tucked into his belt, looking like a Roman soldier going to war.
It was the sort of game that put the Wild in Wildcats.
Second-seeded Villanova defeated fifth-seeded Providence, 76-66, in overtime, but the score — not indicative of the type of game both teams played — hardly seemed to matter. It was a dizzy frenzy right up until the end, led by the Wildcats’ Jalen Brunson, who tied a career high with 31 points, and Mikal Bridges, who added 25.
Villanova scored six points in the final 33 seconds, aided by Providence’s frantic attempts to score against a stifling defense that was not going to let another lead go to waste. The Wildcats won their third Big East title in four years.
“It was old-school Big East in 2018,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “What an incredible college basketball game. What a tough team. Either team could have won.”
The Friars took a two-point lead on Kyron Cartwright’s fadeaway jumper with the shot clock expiring and Alpha Diallo’s layup with 40 seconds left in regulation. Brunson hit both ends of a one-and-one with 30.1 seconds left to tie it at 60. Providence was able to get the ball to Cartwright as time expired in regulation, but his off-balance jumper bounced off the rim to send it to overtime.
Villanova never trailed in overtime, but Providence drew within one before Donte DiVincenzo grabbed an offensive rebound and kicked it to Bridges, whose three-pointer from the top of the key with the shot clock expiring put the Wildcats up 68-64.
It was Providence’s third straight overtime game in the tournament. Diallo had 22 points and 10 rebounds and Cartwright added 19 points and six assists.
This tournament “told me my team matured at the right time,” Cooley said. “It told me my team is gritty. It told me my team is tough, resilient and passionate . . . And hopefully next week, we can continue to play that way.
“If you can’t enjoy this moment, win or lose, on that stage, on this day, Saturday night, you got a problem. So we all should be smiling, because we’re all very, very fortunate.”
Both teams operated in waves from the very beginning — putting together staggering runs before wilting.
Villanova hit first, going up 11-2 in the first five minutes, before Providence erupted for nine straight, tying it at 11.
The Wildcats scored 10 straight to go up 21-11, but Providence struck back, eventually getting to within one.
The Friars tied the score at 23 with 4:22 left in the first half on Diallo’s three-point-play, but despite a spirited display — and a fairly epic first-half tug of war — Providence never took a single lead in the first half.
Villanova went into the break leading 31-27 behind the heavy lifting of Brunson, who scored 13 points, and Bridges, who had 12.
Villanova enters Selection Sunday as one of the favorites for a No. 1 seed, and Wright and Cooley agreed that a game like this prepares them for what’s to come.
Said Wright, “When you’re playing really well and you play through this tournament and win [a little easier] — and we’ve been there” and then you get into the NCAA Tournament and play a tough game in the second round, “it’s been a long time since you’ve played a [tough] game like that.
“And when you get [a tough game] here, if you get it in the first or second round in the NCAA Tournament, you just did it a few days ago and you’re very comfortable in that situation.”
“We just feel so lucky to be a part of [this].”