November 26, 2020 –
It seems to be a bit early to play for a championship, but that is what the Villanova Wildcats were doing. The #3 Wildcats won the 2K Empire Classic Championship with an 83 – 74 win over the 18th ranked Arizona State Sun Devils in Uncasville, CT. Nova forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl was named the tournament MVP.
Robinson-Earl led Villanova with a career-high 28 points and added 8 rebounds. Over the two games the sophomore averaged 23 points and 9 boards. He and his teammates are starting to feel comfortable in the offensive scheme.
“I would say comfortable,” said Robinson-Earl. “We worked on it a lot last year and we got new players this year so we’ve been really working hard in the practices we’ve been able to have. We’re really dialed in so when we’re on the court, we’re really comfortable with the opportunities we can get.”
Sophomore guard Justin Moore was named to the all-tournament team and he scored 16 points and pulled down a career-best 12 rebounds in recording a double-double.
For Villanova to win the game, they would need to control the pace. The Wildcats did that by limiting the Arizona State speed game and fast breaks. The game against Boston College allowed Nova to get used to game tempo, and Coach Jay Wright thought the team reacted well.
“I think the speed of the game affected us last night,” said Wright. “We only practiced against each other. We don’t have the speed so we work on our technique and concepts. In the second half last night we got a feel for the speed and that helped us today. We came in the game defensively ready for the speed.”
Control of the boards was a key factor in controlling the tempo. Villanova outrebounded Arizona State by a 43 – 27 margin and gave up only 4 offensive rebounds to the Sun Devils. Eight Villanova players that had multiple minutes took down a rebound. There is value that everyone crashes the boards.
“It’s very important,” said Moore about guards rebounding. “It’s important for our guards and everyone on the court to be able to rebound. That is something we take value in.”
ASU stayed in proximity pulling to within six at 49 – 43 with 15:16 on the clock. Nova answered right away with back-to-back three-pointers by Robinson-Earl and Caleb Daniels to stretch the lead back to 12 points. The gap did not go below double-digits until the last basket of the game when the clock showed 9 seconds.
Daniels scored 14 points and had 4 assists. Collin Gillespie had 11 points and also handed out 4 assists.
Arizona State was leed in scoring by Josh Christopher who also had 28 points. Alonzo Verge, Jr. added 22 points, and Marcus Bagley had 11. Sun Devils guard Remy Martin was limited to 5 points after getting 26 against Rhode Island.
The Wildcats head into next week with a 2 – 0 record. It will be a different type of challenge as the Wildcats host the Saint Joseph’s Hawks, the initial city game of the year. The team is learning.
“These were two high stakes scrimmages, we approached it that way,” Wright said. “We said let’s see what we got and we are going to learn from this. We learned that we have work to do against the zone, and we did a great job defensively guarding off the dribble. Offensively we were much better. We have plenty of things to work on, but I feel good about those first two games. We went in thinking we going to learn a lot and we did.”
Written By: Glenn Papazian