By Mike Williams | @MikeWritesSport
Sports Capital Journalism Program
SAN ANTONIO — Covered in confetti and a piece of the nylon net tied to his backwards championship hat, Donte DiVincenzo, the unlikely Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, was still standing on the court where he had just led his Villanova Wildcats to a national championship. He wiped sweat from his eyes before offering the only words that could come to mind.
“This is incredible,” he said.
His 31 points became the most scored by a non-starter in the national championship game, surpassing the previous mark of 22 by Luke Hancock in Louisville’s 2013 victory over Michigan. By halftime, DiVincenzo, a redshirt sophomore from Wilmington, Del., had matched his previous 2018 tournament-high of 18 points to help the Wildcats to a nine-point lead.
DiVincenzo started just 10 of his team’s 40 games this season and averaged 13.0 points. “We had a lot of guys that grew as players this year,” said redshirt junior Phil Booth. “We had some guys get hurt, and players got valuable minutes. Donte was one of them.”
Two years ago, when DiVincenzo sat out a championship season, his talent led him to be assigned the responsibility of simulating Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, a national player of the year. Now he was taking his turn in the spotlight.
If this was a surprise, DiVincenzo’s teammates weren’t shocked. “The great thing about this team is anybody can get hot,” freshman forward Omari Spellman said in the Villanova dressing room.
Not far away, Booth shared a similar thought. “We trust each other and believe in each other,” he said. “Anyone of us could go off, and we’ll feed him the ball.”
DiVincenzo, however, was surprised at his performance. “I did not think that I was going to have this kind of night,” he said. “I just try to bring energy. If we get off to a good start, I try to take the energy to a new level.”
DiVincenzo’s performance breaks a previous career high of 30 against Butler on February 18 in one of his starts. He also finished one field goal shy of his career high of 11 set in the same game. DiVincenzo was just one 3-pointer away from tying his career high of 6 against St. John’s on January 13.
Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges are the leaders of the team but will get the ball to whoever is shooting well. “When they don’t have the ball, and it’s not going for them, they don’t care,” said Jay Wright. “During the year, they share the ball with Donte, they share the ball with Eric (Paschall) so at this time of the year those guys are ready to perform.”
Brunson, who was awarded multiple national player of the year awards during the Final Four weekend, agrees. “I just kept telling him to keep going,” he said. “He knows how to play the game of basketball. He knows how to be aggressive but at the same time get his other teammates a shot…He’s just so special. And it just showed tonight.”
Wright credits that collective attitude for DiVincenzo’s record night. “If Jalen and Mikal would have made it all about themselves this year, those guys would not be ready to go,” said Wright. You still have to give credit to Jalen and Mikal for getting those guys ready.”
Michigan entered the game knowing that on any given night, anybody on Villanova can have a night like DiVincenzo’s. “Everyone on their team can score,” said Michigan sophomore center Jon Teske. “(Jalen) Brunson is great and DiVincenzo comes off the bench…Anyone of those six or seven guys can come in and shoot the three.”
DiVincenzo was the first person to score 30 or more points against Michigan since January 25, when Vince Edwards scored 30 for Purdue. He scored the most points in a national championship game since John Morton of Seton Hall scored 35 points and Glen Rice of Michigan scored 31 in 1989.
Bridges expects this kind of performance of DiVincenzo. “That’s what we want from him,” he said. “He’s a killer. He came out there and was aggressive defensively and offensively. He carried us tonight.”
There was a span of 3 minutes, 44 seconds in the second half when DiVincenzo scored 11 consecutive Villanova points to keep Michigan from getting back in the game. Moments like this have earned him the nickname the Michael Jordan of Delaware. It’s a nickname Wright doesn’t remember giving to DiVincenzo.
“He said I said it to him facetiously in his freshman year when he was acting like a superstar,” Wright remembered. “And I said to him, ‘You act like you’re the Michael Jordan of Delaware.’ I don’t remember saying that…So, then I thought that the players started repeating it. I thought they called him that. So, I started saying it. That became his name…
“The reason he does that, he can get really hot,” Wright went on. “But then when the other team sees that he’s hot, then they adjust, which Michigan did. Instead of taking another shot, a heat check, he’ll make the right pass and he’ll stop scoring for a couple of possessions to make the right pass. That’s a really unique quality.”