The Villanova Wildcats, unable to overcome an ice cold shooting effort, lost to the Tennessee Volunteers 78-68 in the Championship game of Dick’s Sporting Goods NIT Tip-Off Tournament at Madison Square Garden on Friday afternoon. In the first half, the Wildcats shot a woeful 29% (8 of 28) from the field, including a paltry 18% on three-point trys (2 of 11) and committed 8 turnovers. Consequently, Tennessee led throughout the first half.
The Vols went to the locker room at half-time with a 35-30 lead. Freshman Tobias Harris was the leading scorer for the Vols at intermission with 11 points. For Villanova, Dominic Cheek had 7 first-half points.
In the second half, the Cats rallied to take the lead several time, never by more than 3 points, until the Vols went on a 9-2 run to take the lead for good 54-50. Villanova made one more bid to tie the game when Cheek scored to make the score 56-55. However, Cheek, who was fouled on the play, missed the ensuing free throw, and the Vols ran off 7 straight points to essentially put the game away.
Tennessee made Villanova work for every point. Corey Fisher, who entered the game as Villanova’s leading scorer, had a nightmarish shooting night hitting only 1 of 10 shots. Both Maalik Wayns and Corey Stokes also had an off- night shooting. Tennessee’s guards Scotty Hopson and Melvin Goins were the chief culprits for the Vols as they shut down Villanova’s high scoring trio. Wayns, Stokes, and Fisher all eventually fouled out of the game.
Overall, Mouph Yarou led the Wildcats, who had 5 players in double figures, in scoring with 15. Antonio Pena added 14 points to go with a team-high 8 rebounds. For Tennessee, Hopson had a game-high 18 points, Cameron Tatum contributed 17 points, and Harris ended with 15 points and 9 boards.
Villanova will look to rebound from their first loss of the season when they face the St. Joseph’s Hawks on December 3rd at the Pavilion (in their first Big-5 match-up of the year).
Of note, freshman James Bell saw his first action of the season entering the game with 50 seconds remaining. Bell missed his only shot of the night. Mouph Yarou was named to the All- NIT Tournament team. Hopson was named MVP of the Tournament.