Men's Basketball Destroys #17 Tennessee 71-53

The Villanova Wildcats picked up their first win against a ranked opponent Saturday afternoon at Mohegan Sun Arena, sinking No. 17 Tennessee 71-53 to improve to 3-1 on the season. The ‘Cats had four players reach double figures in the game. Senior forward Brandon Slater, graduate forward Jermaine Samuels and graduate guard Collin Gillespie all had 14, while junior guard Justin Moore put up 13. Samuels also led the team in rebounds, bringing in 11 boards to give him his first double-double of the season. Volunteers junior guard Santiago Vescovi led the game in scoring, accounting for 23 of Tennessee’s' 53 points. The win advances the ‘Cats to the finals of the 2021 Cheez-It Tip-Off Tournament, where it will face No. 6 Purdue after they defeated No. 18 North Carolina. 

The first half of the game was all Wildcats, as the defense smothered Rick Barnes’ offense, holding it scoreless for the first six minutes of the matchup. The Volunteers shot 23% from the field in the first 20 minutes of action, and shot just 9% from three, only making one of its 11 attempts from beyond the arc. The ‘Cats defense was able to force eight turnovers from the Volunteers in just over the first nine minutes of the game. The Volunteers would give up the ball 18 times before the final buzzer sounded. 

“We just preach playing hard and playing together for 40 minutes and playing Villanova basketball, and I think we did a good job of setting the tone,” Gillespie said. “We knew that they were a great team, we have great respect for them, they’re big and they’re physical. I think we did a really good job on the glass against them and just playing solid on the defensive end and knowing our personnel and the scouting report.”

The Wildcats went on an 18-6 run as the first half came to a close, capped off with an emphatic slam from Moore off a find from freshman guard Jordan Longino. The ‘Cats went into the locker room with a 20-point lead on Tennessee, 35-15.

The Volunteers continued to fight however, and in the second half, the team came out in a 2-3 zone that was able to slow down the ‘Cats’ offense for a moment. The Wildcats had a near five-minute scoreless stretch in the first 10 minutes of the second half. The Volunteers were unable to use that to spark a comeback however, because the ‘Cats defense limited them to just one made basket in that span. 

Slater and Moore picked up their third fouls early in the second half, which led to extended minutes for senior guard Caleb Daniels and junior guard Chris Arcidiacono. 

And although Tennessee won the second half, out scoring the ‘Cats 38-36, it was ultimately not enough for the Volunteers. Villanova head coach Jay Wright said that while the scoreline might suggest that this game was a walk in the park for the Wildcats, it was still a tough game. 

“You watch film of Tennessee and you know they’re really good. It wasn’t easy, trust me, it was not easy,” Wright said. “The score might look that way but they’re a tough, physical team.”

After Sunday’s final, the Wildcats will have faced three top 25 teams in their first five games of the season. Wright said that he hopes the challenging non-conference schedule will help his team as they enter conference play in the Big East.

“I hope it helps us in our league play when we first get there because, number one, our league’s really good,” Wright said. “Number two, a lot of times we start conference play, and we're not really sure what we are yet, but I think this year playing these teams, these coaches, they're going to do things to us that's going to teach us what the teams in our league are going to do to us.”

The Wildcats, who are 29-4 in November tournaments in the past 10 years, will play Purdue at 1 P.M. on Sunday. The team will then travel back to Philadelphia and take on Big 5 foe La Salle at The Palestra on Nov. 28.