No. 5 Villanova rallies past Tennessee
Tennessee took an analytical approach after upsetting No. 18 Purdue on Wednesday with the task of facing No. 5 Villanova on Thursday in a semifinal game of the Battle 4 Atlantis at Paradise Island, Bahamas.
“We told our guys that if you feel confident beating a team like Purdue, imagine how confident Villanova feels coming off an NCAA title two years ago and winning 32 games last year,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “They exude confidence. They take everybody’s best shot night in and night out. Sure enough, they showed us what they’re all about in the second half.
“Our guys got a chance to see what a really good team does when the chips are down.”
Villanova guard Jalen Brunson scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half, spurring the Wildcats from a 12-point halftime deficit to post an 85-76 victory over Tennessee at the Imperial Ballroom Arena.
The Wildcats will play in the championship game Friday against the winner of the North Carolina State-Northern Iowa game that was played later Thursday. Tennessee (3-1) will play the loser in the third-place game
After mounting the comeback and taking a 15-point lead in the second half, Villanova nearly blew it after Tennessee’s Admiral Schofield made a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 79-76 with 53 seconds left.
Mikal Bridges made 3 of 4 free-throw attempts on consecutive possessions to increase the lead to 82-76. Tennessee committed two of its 12 second-half turnovers afterward and the Wildcats pulled away.
“Our guys showed a lot of fight coming back,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “But what is fairly obvious is that we have a long way to go. We have yet to put together a good solid 40 minutes. That’s what we need to work on the most.”
Villanova was also led by 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting by Bridges, and 13 points each by Eric Paschall and Donte DiVincenzo.
Tennessee, which was 1 of 8 from 3-point range in the second half, was led by Grant Williams’ 20 points before he fouled out.
Villanova trailed by as many as 15 points in the first half and faced a 46-34 halftime deficit. The Wildcats shot only 39.1 percent in the first half and were buoyed only by a 13-of-13 shooting performance from the free-throw line before halftime.
They tallied nine steals and scored 14 points off turnovers in the second half. The Wildcats finished 33 of 37 in free throws.
“How much of what happened in the second half was our ineptitude or them turning up the heat and forcing the issue?” Barnes said. “It was a little of both — them amping it up a little bit and us not being able to handle the task.”
Villanova opened the second half with an 11-0 run, cutting the lead to 46-45 with 16:11 left in regulation. Brunson and Bridges each hit a couple of baskets and Tennessee missed five shots with two turnovers in that pivotal stretch.
Villanova took control of the game and pushed its lead to 57-48 with 13:35 left, starting the second half by outscoring Tennessee 23-2.
NOTES: The win was Villanova’s 16th in a row in a November event, dating to a 77-55 loss to Alabama in the 2012 2K Classic. In the years since, Villanova has captured the 2013 Battle 4 Atlantis, 2014 Legends Classic, 2015 NIT Season Tipoff and 2016 Gildan Charleston Classic. ... The Volunteers have not defeated an AP top-5 ranked team since beating No. 3 Pittsburgh, 83-76 on Dec. 11, 2010. ... Villanova G Jalen Brunson’s 25 points give him 1,007 points in his three seasons with the Wildcats. He has averaged 12.9 points per game over 81 career games. ... Tennessee senior G James Daniel III is the nation’s active career leading scorer with 1,951 points.