After watching Donte DiVincenzo carry Villanova University to another national basketball championship, you have to ask yourself – was that the greatest athletic performance ever by a Delawarean on a national or international stage?
DiVincenzo, who was the Delaware player of the year when he led Salesianum School to its second straight state championship in 2015, was an easy choice for Most Outstanding Player after Villanova whipped Michigan 79-62 in Monday night’s final game. DiVincenzo came off the bench to score a game-high 31 points, which is also the NCAA record for most points scored by a reserve in that title game.
But it wasn’t even the amount of points that was so special as much as the timeliness of them. The final score makes it appear the Wildcats cruised to their second championship in the last three years, and in the second half they did. But the game was very much in doubt in the first half until DiVincenzo took over. Villanova’s big stars, Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, were struggling – they scored a combined 11 points in the first half — and the Wildcats were losing.
Then DiVincenzo entered the game and everything changed. He was a force in every department – scoring, rebounding, passing and defense – but it was his long-range shooting that really made the difference. DiVincenzo was 5-for-7 on three-point shots and several of them came from NBA distance. At one point, Michigan led 14-8 and seemed to be very much in control of the tempo of the game, and then DiVincenzo scored eight straight points to put Nova on top for good.
After the game, Michigan coach John Beilein second-guessed his decision to focus his defense on Brunson and Bridges and not focus enough on the kid from Sallies.
“But he still made some long shots that I don’t think there is a defense for,” Beilein said.
“Even if we had played our best, it would have been very difficult to win that game with what DiVincenzo did,” Beilein added. “It was an incredible performance. Sometimes those individual performances just beat you and you say ‘OK, we played you the best we could, and tonight you were better than us.’”
DiVincenzo was also dynamic when he took the ball to the basket and he also came up with a couple of highlights-reel blocked shots. On one of them, he pinned the ball between the rim and the backboard. On the other, he went straight up in the air – and if you look at the replay you’ll see that he was way, way up in the air – and with two hands the 6-foot-5 DiVincenzo snuffed the shot of 6-6 Charles Matthews.
Villanova’s biggest strengths all season were their depth, versatility and unselfishness, but in the biggest game of the year it was really a one-man show. Bridges finished with 19 points, but no other Wildcats player scored in double figures. So, this wasn’t just a great game by DiVincenzo – it was a critical game because Villanova would have lost without it.
As for other Delawareans who have starred in the biggest sports spotlights, there’s always Randy White, who was co-MVP of Super Bowl XII in 1977, along with Dallas Cowboys teammate Harvey Martin. And much more recently, Morgan Hurd of Middletown won the all-around title at the 2017 World Gymnastics Championships and she’ll get a chance to shine even more in the 2020 Olympics.
Of course, Elena DelleDonne is a superstar in her sport, but the WNBA doesn’t exactly draw millions of people to their television sets (or streaming device or whatever). More people saw DiVincenzo on Monday night than have seen DelleDonne in her entire career
We’ve also had our share of Olympians and an Olympic medal is the most important prize in sports, but we couldn’t come up with any other First Staters who were first raters in the biggest sports events played in front of millions of people.
Now you have to wonder what’s next for DiVincenzo and Villanova. He will certainly play a much bigger role next season, since Bridges, Brunson and maybe even Spellman will leave for the NBA. And now it appears certain that DiVincenzo will also get a shot at the big leagues and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him leave for the NBA after next season, when he will be a red-shirt junior.
When he took flight on Monday night, in the biggest game of his life, it was clear to millions of people that the sky’s the limit for Donte DiVincenzo.