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Villanova pulls away from Texas Tech for 85-69 win in Battle 4 Atlantis opener

The Wildcats are moving onto the Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals after a solid showing against Texas Tech.

NCAA Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis-Texas Tech at Villanova Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

What a difference a week makes.

Last week, Villanova was still digesting the bitter taste of defeat after suffering a road loss to Penn at the Palestra. On Friday, it got a far-from-perfect bounce-back win over Maryland.

The ‘Cats may be in the Bahamas, but so far, they’ve showed that it’s a business trip. Villanova pulled away from Texas Tech to enjoy an 85-69 win in the opening round of the Battle 4 Atlantis on Wednesday.

“I thought our guys came out, set the tone, played hard from the very beginning,” Villanova coach Kyle Neptune said. “They made their shots, they made their runs, so I’m proud of our guys’ resiliency.”

After previous slow starts and a second-half letdown against the Terrapins in their last outing, the ‘Cats mustered a more complete performance — barring a couple of three-minute scoring droughts. Villanova posted 40-plus points in each half against a scrappy defensive-minded Texas Tech team.

The Red Raiders didn’t make it easy though. They chipped away at the Wildcats’ double-digit lead early in the second half. Texas Tech came as close as three, after a Pop Isaacs free throw made it 56-53, with 10:41 remaining.

Villanova got huge answer and response from Jordan Longino, who finished through contact for an and-1. It sparked a 7-0 run which included an Eric Dixon steal that led to a pair of T.J. Bamba free throws, and a Dixon bucket to extend Villanova’s lead back into double figures.

The Wildcats would slowly build and reclaim momentum, and an emphatic two-hand slam dunk by Bamba would ignite the crowd the Wildcat bench.

Villanova would make a series of three-pointers and foul shots to extend its lead, and the ‘Cats were never in jeopardy for the remainder of the game.

“(Texas Tech) made some tough shots,” Neptune said. “Guys that hadn’t been making shots, made some for them. We think about going into a game defending. Make shots, miss shots — doesn’t matter, we know you gotta go through some games, some halves wehre you don’t make shots, so I like the way we defended.”

The Wildcats seemed to better handle the momentum swings throughout the game, especially early on, when it was a back-and-forth start.

Villanova would pull ahead after Texas Tech’s Devan Cambridge was tagged with a Flagrant 1 foul after kicking Brendan Hausen midway through the first half. After that foul, the Wildcats went on an 18-3 run that was capped by a pair of Lance Ware free throws to make it 34-23 with 4:36 remaining in the half.

The Red Raiders would settle in, and the Wildcats would take a 41-33 halftime lead.

Eric Dixon and Justin Moore led the Wildcats, who had six different players chip in eight or more points in the winning effort. Dixon finished with 19 points, six rebounds and three steals. Moore had 18 points, six rebounds, five assists, two steals and no turnovers.

“They’re our leaders, we know that,” Neptune said of Moore and Dixon. “They have a lot of experience at this level, and a lot of experience at Villanova. They know what we’re all about. We go as they go.”

Bamba had nine points, two rebounds, an assist and a steal, while Mark Armstrong added eight points on 3-for-5 shooting, with three rebounds and three assists.

Longino, Brendan Hausen, Hakim Hart and Lance Ware were highlights off the bench. Longino led bench scorers with nine points on 3-for-4 shooting, with five rebounds. Hausen drilled a couple of threes and had eight points. Hart chipped in seven points and three rebounds, while Ware only had two points, five rebounds and a steal, but posted a team-high plus/minus rating of +14.

For Texas Tech, Pop Isaacs paced the Red Raiders with 16 points, three boards and three assists. Joe Toussaint had 15 points and eight assists. Devan Cambridge added 11 points.

The free throw line was a big area for both teams. The Wildcats were perfect from the charity stripe in the first half and went on to finish 26-of-32 (81.3%) as a unit. Meanwhile, Texas Tech went 13-of-22 (59.1%) as a team.

Villanova improves to 4-1 and will take on No. 14-ranked North Carolina in the Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals. It’ll be the first official meeting between both programs since the 2016 national championship game. Tip-off is scheduled for Thursday at 2:30 p.m. ET.

“Not even a second, haven’t looked at them,” Neptune said after the Wildcats’ win. “I know a couple of guys from the past UNC teams, other than that, no idea. Going to take half a break, come right back and watch some film.”