Villanova displayed its dominance for a full 40 minutes against No. 17 Tennessee, downing the Volunteers, 71-53.
The ‘Cats set the tone early, jumping out to a 9-0 lead after Tennessee missed its first six shots. They never relinquished that lead. Tennessee scored just 15 points in the first half, going 1-of-11 from three-point range, and turned the ball over 14 times.
Four different Wildcats scored in double figures. Collin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels and Brandon Slater all finished with 14 points. Justin Moore added 13 points.
Despite a slow start to the second half in which Villanova shot just 2-of-13 from the floor and Slater went to the bench with four fouls, the ‘Cats never let Tennessee get within striking distance.
Reigning SEC Freshman of the Week, Kennedy Chandler, finished with just six points, shooting 1-9 from the floor. The anticipated star-power match-up between Chandler and Gillespie was largely one-sided, as Gillespie finished with 14 points and four assists.
“Every young guy that plays against [Gillespie] wants to make a name on him,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “I was really worried about Kennedy Chandler because he’s really good. If you’re that guy that they’re coming at every night...that’s a hard thing to do. We need [Gillespie] to run the team, and he’s done a great job at that so far.”
Samuels earned his first double-double of the season, scoring 14 points (6-of-10 shooting, 2-of-4 from three), along with a team-high 11 rebounds. Moore added seven boards and two steals with his 13 points. Slater finished with 14 points, despite playing just 22 minutes due to foul trouble.
The underclassmen had another impressive showing this afternoon. Eric Dixon scored six points and secured five rebounds, and Jordan Longino played 10 minutes.
“They compete at a high level and they play really hard,” said Collin Gillespie of the younger players on the roster. “Myself and Jermaine just try to set the tone and play hard and defend and rebound, and those guys will learn and grow.”
The Wildcats won the rebounding battle, 41-39, despite being largely outsized by the physical Tennessee roster. They also earned the advantage on the offensive glass, 14-12. Samuels had a team-high four offensive rebounds.
Though it was a rather mediocre shooting performance from the ‘Cats (37% from the floor and 33% from beyond the arc), it was the team defense that led to the winning effort. They recorded eight steals, forced Tennessee into 18 turnovers, and scored 13 points off of those giveaways. Five Villanova players had at least one steal in the game. The Vols shot just 33% from the floor and 5-of-28 (17.9%) from three-point range.
For Tennessee, Santiago Vescovi led all scorers with 23 points and six rebounds.
“We let missed shots affect us,” said Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes. “We lost our aggression on defense, and we’ve got to give [Villanova] credit too, going after the loose balls the way they did. It’s something you appreciate as a coach.”
Villanova earned its first victory against a top-25 team this season amid its gauntlet of a non-conference schedule. With the win, Villanova improves to 3-1 on the early season. The Wildcats will play next in the Hall of Fame Tip-off Tournament Championship game on Sunday at 1 p.m. The ‘Cats will face the winner of No. 18 North Carolina vs. No. 6 Purdue.