No. 5 Villanova beats Northern Iowa in Battle 4 title game
Villanova guards Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges continued to be too difficult to handle for opponents in the Battle 4 Atlantis, combining for 34 points in a 64-50 win over Northern Iowa on Friday in the championship game at Paradise Island, Bahamas.
Brunson and Bridges led the fifth-ranked Wildcats (6-0) in scoring in wins over Western Kentucky and Tennessee before facing the Panthers (5-2) for the title.
Bridges scored 18 points while making 8 of 14 shots from the field. He also tallied seven rebounds. Brunson had 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field. He had four assists and two steals.
“We’ve come to expect their great leadership. They put us in a position to win,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “In all three games here, we played a great second half and a lot of that has to do with them setting the tone.”
Phil Booth contributed 12 points for Villanova and Eric Paschall added 10 points and five rebounds.
Northern Iowa was led by Juwan McCloud’s 13 points. Bennett Koch had 10 points and 12 rebounds and Tywhon Pickford finished with nine points and 10 rebounds.
Villanova had a flawless game when it came to fouls and turnovers. The Wildcats committed only six fouls and committed three turnovers. Northern Iowa did not attempt a free throw.
“When the stat sheet says zero free throws attempted, it looks a little funny, but that has more to do with how effective Villanova played defensively,” Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said. “They make the right switches at the right time and they just don’t foul you.
“Neither one of our teams foul that much. They only had seven free-throw attempts until the final minute or so when we fouled them to try to get the ball back.”
A 9-2 run by Villanova opened a 44-33 lead with 12:08 left, capped by a dunk by Paschall in transition after a Northern Iowa turnover.
The Panthers had 15 turnovers compared to only two for Villanova when eight minutes remained in regulation with the Wildcats leading 49-38.
The Wildcats outscored Northern Iowa 11-2 in points off turnovers. Brunson had four assists and only one turnover in 34 minutes.
“He comes to work every day, mentally prepared, physically prepared,” Wright said of Brunson, who led Villanova in the tournament in scoring, averaging 20.3 points in the three games. “He just has a great perspective on life. When you take that to the basketball court, he plays the same way — very intelligently, tough and very skilled.”
A 3-pointer by Spencer Haldeman cut Villanova’s lead to 51-45 with 5:33 remaining.
The Panthers failed to cut into the lead further in consecutive possessions before Booth nailed a 3-pointer with 3:56 left, increasing the lead to 54-45.
“The guys battled; we just have to play better,” Jacobson said. “We had our chances with less than five minutes left and let it slip away. We were right there. I think our guys will learn from it.”
The Wildcats pushed the lead to 59-45 as Northern Iowa went through a scoreless stretch of 3 minutes, 50 seconds, in which the Panthers missed four shots in successive possessions without grabbing an offensive rebound.
NOTES: Villanova junior G Jalen Brunson became the 64th player in school history to score 1,000 or more points, when the Wildcats played in Thursday’s semifinal of the Battle 4 Atlantis. He now has 1,023 points. ... Northern Iowa 6-foot-4 freshman G Tywhon Pickford’s 18 rebounds against North Carolina State in a semifinal game Thursday is the most by a Panther since David Gruber grabbed 18 rebounds against Montana on Nov. 22, 2002. ... Northern Iowa had an average rebounding edge of 10.8 per game in its first five games. The Panthers outrebounded Villanova 37-29 on Friday. ... Villanova played in its sixth consecutive November tournament title. The run began in the 2012 2K Legends Classic, where the Wildcats fell to Alabama. They have since captured the 2013 and 2017 Battle 4 Atlantis, 2014 Legends Classic, 2015 NIT Season Tip-off and 2016 Gildan Charleston Classic. They have won 17 straight games in these events dating to the 77-55 loss to the Crimson Tide