We established that the Battle 4 Atlantis is bringing drama this year, and Villanova’s second-round game against Tennessee continued to bring the intensity. Escaping the litany of “tournament second round” jokes, the Wildcats finished strong against the Volunteers 85-76 in Paradise Island.
Villanova’s path to victory was by no means readily established at the onset of the game. Although ‘Nova worked to set the pace in the early minutes, the Vols flushed through the Wildcats for the majority of the first half. Cutting through ‘Nova’s defense and openly splashing shots, Tennessee played with a urgent pace, ending the half on top 46-34.
Shaking past the seemingly endless sideline arguments between coach Jay Wright and the referees of the first half, Villanova opened the second half with a purpose. Lead by Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, ‘Nova started the second half on a 10-0 run, which culminated into a 21-2 run by the 13 minute mark. Brunson’s positioning, Bridges’ long-range shots, and three-pointer by Omari Spellman helped push ‘Nova’s lead past Tennessee.
Despite the increasing scoreboard, the Vols refused to lamely hand over their Battle 4 Atlantis championship game bid. Ending the second half on a 14-3 run, Admiral Schofield landed a three-point shot to make it a three-point game with under a minute left. Not deterred by the sudden single-possession game, ‘Nova smoothly executed a few free throws, and a dunk by Donte DiVincenzo solidified their victory.
For Villanova, Brunson dropped a new season-high of 25 points (and reached over 1,000 career goals as a Wildcat!) and Bridges followed closely behind with 21 points. Tennessee managed to stay on field goal pace with Villanova (the Vols made 45%, ‘Nova shot 46%) and even shot 30% of 3FGs compared to Villanova’s 35% of 3FGs.
Forcing 17 Wildcat turnovers, and having a comparable amount of rebounds (32 for Tennessee, 35 for Villanova), the biggest discrepancy in statistics came in everybody’s favorite fundamental: free throws. Making 33 out of 37 free throws (89%), Villanova ensured their victory through maintaining their precision in high-pressure situations.
Villanova moves on to the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament tomorrow at 12:00, facing the winner of North Carolina State-Northern Iowa.