Villanova cements its basketball dominance and Wildcat nation revels

Sophomore Paul Jacob from Clarksburg, New Jersey chose to attend Villanova because of its communal feel and religious roots, two common draws for students at this relatively small Catholic school outside Philadelphia.

“I saw competition everywhere else. I saw love and collaboration here,” Jacob said Monday night. “Combined with…our three-point shooting, it was an easy choice.”

Thanks specifically to the three-point shooting, Jacob uttered those lines amid a throng of hundreds Monday night. He and his fellow students packed a small stretch of Lancaster Avenue following Villanova’s second men’s basketball championship in three years, enlivening a normally sleepy stretch of suburb with chants, firecrackers, and sporadic pole-climbing.

For many like Jacob it was the answer to literal prayers. The sophomore recited ten versions of a slightly amended Lord’s Prayer Sunday night as he struggled to fall asleep.

I just said heavenly father, thank you for putting me at this school,” he said. “Let your will be done, but if your will is to let us win, let that be done. Amen.”

The post-victory celebration likely paled in size and intensity to what would have transpired 600 miles west if Villanova’s foe, the University of Michigan, had prevailed. That’s more a compliment to ‘Nova than a diss.

Mighty Michigan has nearly 29,000 undergraduates. The University of North Carolina, Villanova’s last title-game opponent, has more than 18,000 undergrads.

Villanova — a small-ish Catholic college located on the upscale Main Line — has a mere 7,000 undergraduates.

Yet on Monday night the Wildcats became just the fourth school since 1975 to win two men’s basketball championships in a three-year stretch, and the only one without a top-division football program to manage that feat.

The 79-62 win over Michigan came with far less drama than ‘Nova’s 2016 win over North Carolina. That game required a last-second heave from Kris Jenkins to deliver the school its first men’s basketball title since 1985.

This time around, Villanova had firm control of the game by halftime. Students packed into the Connelly Center on Villanova’s campus spent much of the final 20 minutes prepping their party plans and preening for television cameras as the lead stretched into double digits.

The Wildcats were led by Donte DiVincenzo of Wilmington, Delaware. The reserve guard scored a career-high 31 points, the most ever by a bench player in a men’s title game.

Once the finally buzzer sounded, students rushed to the corner of Lancaster and Ithan Avenues.

Waiting there was Margie McGuire, 55, a lifelong resident of the nearby neighborhood and, consequently, a lifelong Villanova fan. She wore a sweatshirt purchased during the Wildcats’ magical 1985 season, when the school toppled top-seeded Georgetown for its first men’s basketball title.

She admitted the party then was a little wilder than the 2018 version

“[But] this is fun,” she said. “After the Super Bowl? C’mon!”

It’s been a triumphant few months for Philadelphia-area sports fans. The Eagles won their first Super Bowl in February. Villanova conquered its sport two months later. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia 76ers and Flyers have surged toward the playoffs.

No one, though, has had it better than Villanova’s upperclassmen, who have now witnessed two national championships in their short college tenures.

Senior J.P. Naughton summed up the feeling succinctly Monday night.

“This has been the most incredible three years of my life,” he said. And the party isn’t over yet for Wildcat fans. There will be a championship parade in Philadelphia for Villanova when the team returns from San Antonio, according to city officials.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.