A bench player putting up 31 points in the national title game is certainly an accomplishment worth noting, but let’s not sell Villanova’s Donte DiVincenzo short by calling him a mere substitute who picked the perfect time to have the game of his life. The redshirt sophomore shooting guard was a four-star recruit out of Salesianum School in Wilmington, Del., attracting the likes of Syracuse, Notre Dame, Florida State, Florida and Pittsburgh. He almost certainly would have started for any of those teams, but he decided to attend Villanova and came off the bench for all but 10 games this past season.
Nevertheless, the bench player in name only finished third on the team in points per game (13.4) and fourth in minutes per game (29.3), and on Monday night he almost single-handedly propelled the Wildcats to their second national title in three seasons, finishing with 31 points, five rebounds, three assists and two rather forceful blocked shots, considering his 6-foot-5 stature.
“All he wants to do is play,” DiVincenzo’s mother, Kathy, told the New York Times after her son was named the Final Four’s most outstanding player. “He doesn’t care if he starts.”
DiVincenzo has been an NCAA tournament star for Villanova for his entire career, even when he wasn’t physically able to take the court. Two years ago, at the tail end of a freshman season that lasted just eight games after he broke a bone in his foot, he mimicked Oklahoma star Buddy Hield in practice ahead of the Wildcats’ Final Four matchup with the Sooners. Hield would finish the game with just nine points on 4-for-12 shooting, and Villanova would go on to win the second national title in program history two days later.
DiVincenzo’s teammates said their injured comrade did such a good job impersonating Hield that they had a much easier time defending the real deal. That player was back Monday nightt.
“Buddy Hield Donte was a special person, and someone who might’ve came out tonight,” Jalen Brunson, the Wildcats’ star point guard who ran into foul trouble and had only nine points against Michigan, told the Times.
Healthy again last season as a redshirt freshman, DiVincenzo scored a career-high 25 points to pair with five rebounds and four assists in a Big East tournament win over St. John’s and then averaged 18 points per game — off the bench, naturally — in Villanova’s two NCAA tournament games, though the top-seeded Wildcats’ repeat hopes were ended in an upset loss to Wisconsin in the second round.
Fast-forward a little more than one year later, and the player who’s been dubbed the Big Ragu became just the third player to score 30 points while shooting better than 66 percent in a Final Four game. The other two? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton, two noted starters for UCLA. Maybe one day DiVincenzo also will earn that designation, one that didn’t mean a whole lot Monday night.
“Hopefully,” DiVincenzo told ESPN. “Might have to talk to coach about that.”
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