Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Donte DiVincenzo’s Arrival Gives Villanova Yet Another Weapon
By MIKE McCURRYNEW YORK — Villanova redshirt freshman Donte DiVincenzo was unable to participate in any of the Wildcats’ four games at Madison Square Garden last season, as a broken right foot signaled the end to his year after just eight contests.
On Saturday, the 6-foot-5 guard made up for lost time, scoring a game-high and career-high 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting in his first collegiate game at “The World’s Most Famous Arena,” as No. 3 Villanova defeated St. John’s, 70-57.
In doing so, DiVincenzo not only put the finishing touches on a terrific personal week, but also received the utmost compliment imaginable from head coach Jay Wright, who compared his indispensable reserve to his All-American.
“I think he can be a Josh Hart,” said Wright of DiVincenzo. “I really do. And I’ve talked to [Donte] about that before.”
When likening DiVincenzo to Hart, Wright probably wasn’t alluding to Saturday’s version of the National Player of the Year frontrunner.
Hart was held in check by St. John’s Malik Ellison, posting a season-low 11 points on a 4-of-13 showing from the field.
And he wasn’t the only Wildcat to hit the snooze button for a noon tip. Jalen Brunson had just 8 points and matched a career-worst with 7 turnovers. Kris Jenkins’ first successful field goal did not come until the 4:55 mark of the second half.
The Hart/Brunson/Jenkins trio entered the weekend averaging 48.4 points per night between them. Against St. John’s, they combined for 29 points, 6 assists, and 13 turnovers.
Villanova also coughed the rock up 20 times, equaling its most in any of the past four seasons.
Yet the defending national champions were still able to pull away eventually and somewhat comfortably win a conference affair on the road.
They have their low-quantity, high-quality bench of DiVincenzo and fellow second-teamer Eric Paschall (9 points, 4 rebounds) to thank for that.
“We always want to set a tone to start the game off, and when we don’t do that it’s comfortable knowing that we have [Eric], we have [Donte]—two guys who could start at a lot of programs coming off the bench, bringing incredible energy,” said Hart.
For the second straight game, the starting unit came out a little flat.
On Tuesday, that resulted in DiVincenzo logging a career-high 32 minutes in the win over No. 15 Xavier to go along with 10 points, 4 boards, and 3 assists.
On Saturday, DiVincenzo and Paschall took turns imparting that the duo much more closely resembles Villanova’s sixth and seventh starters as opposed to mere rotation members.
With Hart repressed by some early turnovers and swatted shots, and Jenkins’ stroke so off he was missing free throws, the Wildcats did not take their first lead until nearly 15 minutes in—on a Paschall three-point play stemming from an offensive rebound.
The final nail in St. John’s coffin arrived via a DiVincenzo breakaway dunk to extend Villanova’s lead to 62-49. Just for good measure, the Wilmington, Delaware native hustled back to the other end to soar for an out-of-space rebound.
“He’s doing everything for us,” said Wright of DiVincenzo. “He’s playing point, playing the two-guard, playing the three, rebounding, defending. That’s the kind of player he is. That’s the kind of players we like to have.”
If that assessment sounds like it would be considered plagiarism of a Josh Hart scouting report, it’s no coincidence.
DiVincenzo and Hart go up against each other in practice on a daily basis, with the freshman matching the senior’s ultra-competitiveness blow-for-blow, according to Wright.
To dazzle behind closed doors in a team-only setting is one thing.
“To do it here, in the Garden, against a tough, aggressive team, he did it in the Xavier game—that’s big time,” said Wright.
As if Villanova needed another established weapon on an already potent offense, the Wildcats are all the more terrifying with DiVincenzo officially announcing his arrival this week.
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