Josh Hart's one-man onslaught rallies No. 1 Villanova past Notre Dame

Josh Hart scored a career-best 37 points on Saturday (AP)
Josh Hart scored a career-best 37 points on Saturday (AP)

The last four times Notre Dame had faced the reigning national champ, the Irish sprung an upset.

Only because of the brilliance of Josh Hart did that streak end Saturday afternoon.

With top-ranked Villanova trailing by nine midway through the second half and in desperate need of a spark, Hart hoisted his team onto his back. Eighteen of the senior guard’s career-high 37 points came during the final 13 minutes of the game, rallying the Wildcats to a 74-66 victory in a battle of two of college basketball’s final eight unbeaten teams.

Hart had a hand in almost every key basket of Villanova’s comeback, from a steal and layup to cut the deficit to five, to a deep 3-pointer that sliced it to three, to a driving layup that pulled the Wildcats within one. It was his two free throws with six minutes to go that gave Villanova the lead for good in a game in which the Wildcats had trailed the first 31 minutes.

The way most of Hart’s teammates were misfiring throughout the game, Villanova would not have improved to 10-0 or retained its No. 1 ranking without his one-man onslaught.

Hart’s 37 points on 14 shots matched the scoring output the rest of the Wildcats managed on 36 field goal attempts. The 6-foot-6 senior’s 11 rebounds and four assists were also both team highs.

Such a strong game on a big stage will boost Hart’s national player of the year campaign and can only help his quest to crack the first round of next year’s NBA draft.

Even though he was arguably the best all-around player on Villanova’s national title team last season, Hart chose to return to school for his senior year last May rather than keeping his name in the NBA draft. Feedback from NBA teams suggested that he likely would have been a second-round pick last June if he were drafted at all.

Scouts liked Hart’s versatility, intangibles and defensive toughness, but they questioned if his success at the college level would translate against NBA-caliber length and athleticism. They feared that he lacked the quickness to beat NBA defenders off the dribble, that he’d struggle finishing over long-armed big men and that he lacked the upside of younger, less polished prospects.

There’s no guarantee Hart can win over NBA teams who favor potential over production, but he has definitely improved from where he was at the end of last season. He’s a more accurate long-range shooter, a superior playmaker and even a little more muscular, enabling him to draw fouls or finish through contact when he attacks the rim.

All of Hart’s attributes were on display Saturday when he singlehandedly overshadowed a confidence-inspiring performance from Notre Dame even in a loss.

Questions abounded entering Saturday’s game whether the Irish’s undefeated record was more a product of their schedule or their talent. The only credible opponents Notre Dame had beaten so far this season were Colorado, Northwestern and Iowa, none of whom are surefire NCAA tournament teams.

By leading Villanova for three-quarters of the game in front of a pro-Villanova crowd in New Jersey, Notre Dame took a step toward proving it can be an upper-echelon ACC team once again despite the departures of Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste. Especially impressive on Saturday was junior point guard Matt Farrell, who scored 18 points, dished out six assists and continued to perform like one of the nation’s most improved players.

Farrell might have been Saturday’s breakout player were his performance not obscured by Hart’s scoring barrage.

On an afternoon when Notre Dame was the better team for three-quarters of the game, Villanova leaned on its senior leader and escaped unscathed.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!