Jalen Brunson doesn't mind taking a backseat as Donte DiVincenzo drives Villanova to the title
Brunson shows he has the instinct to know when to let others lead
Brunson, a national Player of the Year frontrunner, finished with a ho-hum nine points on 4-of-13 shooting and two assists -- the same number of times he coughed it up to his opponent as Villanova defeated Michigan, 79-62.
Sure, Brunson has been Villanova's lifeline -- and specifically this postseason, averaging 16.2 points and four assists per contest. But he has a knack for feeling the pulse of the game as well as any point guard in the country, and he quickly used his stethoscope Monday to diagnose that it was Donte DiVincenzo, not him, who had the hottest hand.
Brunson could've forced the issue and gotten his, maybe try and improve his draft profile by putting up 20 despite a shaky start. He could've kept shooting, been more selfish and grinded it out on the offensive end. Maybe he finds a groove, you know?
Instead, Brunson called shotgun and let DiVincenzo drive Villanova to the title.
"I'm just so thankful that he was able to have one of these nights tonight," Brunson said of DiVincenzo's 31-point performance, which earned him Most Outstanding Player honors. "It just shows you how much depth we have as a team and how we just don't care who gets the credit. If someone is hot, feed him. And just trying to play off each other and just trying to make sure we're all playing together."
Brunson's teammates were hardly surprised he took a backseat once it was apparent DiVincenzo had it rolling.
"He's just always all about the team," junior guard Phil Booth said. "His mental approach to the game is on another level. We just made it all about each other. We just focused on being the best team we could be this season.
"And Jalen's been great all season. He's a great leader, so unselfish. With all the buzz around him with Player of the Year, he just played his game. The awards came. A guy that a lot of people don't find around."
There are very few teams adequately stocked with talent to withstand a mediocre night from its best player. Villanova is one. And Villanova didn't withstand it. It cruised to a sixth consecutive double-digit NCAA Tournament win, with Brunson taking on a lesser role to make way for DiVincenzo.
Maybe things could've gone differently had Brunson not recognized DiVincenzo's breakout-in-the-making. Maybe John Beilein is cutting down the nets and taking home his first national championship. Maybe we're not talking about Villanova as a potential dynasty.
But with Brunson's brilliance on full display, there was no other way this night would end. He was happy to let DiVencenzo fill up the stat sheet, so long as Villanova came out on top.
Whether Brunson declares for the NBA Draft and forgoes his final college season or not, his role in Villanova transforming into a potential dynasty has cemented his status as one of the Villanova greats. Forgettable performance or not, his impact in the granular details -- and more importantly, his willingness to take a backseat to DiVencenzo -- provided a grand impact that has the Wildcats headed back from San Antonio victors of the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
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