WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — No. 15 Purdue kept making No. 3 Villanova hold its breath Monday night.
Josh Hart made sure the Wildcats followed the same old beat.
The preseason All-America guard scored 24 points, made big shot after big shot and calmly sank the final four free throws of the game to help the defending national champions hang on for a 79-76 victory.
“Josh just said to me at the beginning of the second half that ‘we got this,'” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. “That’s the real strength of this team — the leadership. I think that’s what you saw the start of the second half.”
Villanova (2-0) has won eight straight games, including the six NCAA Tournament wins that led to last season’s national championship. And as far as early-season victories go, this was about as big as they come.
Purdue had won nine straight on its home court and had only lost one previous November game since Matt Painter took over as coach in 2006-07.
The difference was Villanova had Hart, who finished three points short of his career high, and the Boilermakers didn’t have an answer.
“We had to do a better job on Josh Hart,” Painter said. “Their overall toughness is among the best in the country.”
Purdue sure didn’t make it easy on the Wildcats, who made their first seven shots of the second half and charged to a 56-45 lead.
The Boilermakers rallied behind Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan, who combined for five straight baskets during a flurry that pulled Purdue to 61-60. Haas scored 18 of his 22 points in the second half, and Swanigan had 20 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
But with Hart’s shooting and the Wildcats’ stout defense, the Boilermakers never took the lead, never tied the score and couldn’t make either 3-pointer that could have forced overtime in the waning seconds.
“This game was huge for us, playing a great team, a very disciplined team in that crazy environment,” Hart said.
Darryl Reynolds had 12 points and eight rebounds for Villanova.
Villanova: The Wildcats passed their biggest test of November — barely. Now they’ve got five games over the next 15 days, three more by Sunday, to get everything in sync.
Purdue: This early test showed the Boilermakers can play with the big boys. Beating them might still be a challenge if they don’t find more perimeter shooting.
The Boilermakers erased a 39-34 deficit in the final 40 seconds of the first half with a layup from Swanigan and after Vince Edwards scooped up a loose ball and got it to guard P.J. Thompson, who banked in a buzzer-beating 3 from midcourt to tie it. The crowd went wild long before a replay review confirmed the original call that it counted.
Purdue is 12-14 when facing a defending national champ. But having one from outside the Big Ten visit West Lafayette is a rarity. Since hosting UCLA for the opening game on Dec. 2 1967, it had happened only one other time before Monday: Against Louisville on Jan. 18, 1987. UCLA won the first game 73-71, but the Boilermakers beat Louisville 88-73.
Villanova: The Wildcats proved they’re worthy of a high ranking with a quality road victory but will be hard-pressed to move up unless No. 1 Duke or No. 2 Kentucky lose.
Purdue: The Boilermakers aren’t likely to slide much, if at all, after coming within a basket or two of upsetting a top-5 team.
Villanova: On Thursday, the Wildcats face Western Michigan in Charleston, South Carolina, as they begin chasing a fourth straight in-season tourney title.
Purdue: Hosts Georgia State on Friday, marking the return of former IUPUI coach Ron Hunter. The Boilermakers are 24-2 at Mackey Arena over the last 26 games.