Alabama's hot shooting too much for Villanova in MSG's 2K Sports Classic
It was only a matter of time before Alabama's superior shooting prevailed against Villanova in Friday night's 2K Sports Classic championship at Madison Square Garden.
Despite shooting significantly better throughout the game, it took a decisive run early in the second half for Alabama to pull away for a 77-55 win.
The Crimson Tide seized control with a 19-4 charge over an eight-minute stretch that turned a 31-29 deficit into a 48-35 advantage when Rodney Cooper drilled a three-pointer with 11:13 remaining.
"I think our defense stepped up and I think we kind of wore them down a little bit with the pressure," Alabama guard Andrew Steele said. "Not necessarily turnovers, but pressuring their ballhandlers and making it tough for them to get what they want."
Alabama (4-0) shot 56.8 percent from the field, led by tournament MVP Trevor Releford (25 points) and Cooper (17).
Villanova, which got 17 points from Brooklyn native JayVaughn Pinkston, was doomed by its 31.9 percent shooting.
"It was 29-26 [Alabama] at halftime. I thought we can't play any worse," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "We proved me wrong. We just couldn't do anything against them."
The Wildcats (3-1) weren't able to get within double figures after the big run, and Releford provided the knockout blow with eight straight points to give Alabama a 60-41 lead with 5:11 remaining.
Releford had been a starter in his first two years at Alabama, but accepted a reserve role at the start of this season. Friday night, he returned to the starting lineup and delivered.
"Having his veteran leadership out there was great for our younger guys," Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. "It was great to see him be aggressive offensively. He got some shots to fall, had a great shooting night and I think was the catalyst for the way the rest of our guys responded."
Alabama shot a scorching 60 percent on three-pointers, which was an unexpected development. The Crimson Tide entered the game shooting 36.1 percent from long range and Villanova had limited opponents to 33 percent on three-pointers.
"The thing we always talk about is we want to just make sure we're taking quality shots. I thought our ball movement tonight was really good," Grant said. "I think it was [Thursday] in the first half, we didn't shoot particularly well and I told the guys we were getting good shots for the most part. [I said] continue to do the same things and continue to share the ball and just play with the confidence, and I just think that's what we did tonight."
Villanova averaged 82.3 points while getting off to a 3-0 start, which included an 89-81 overtime win against Purdue in a semifinal Thursday. That scoring punch was sorely lacking Friday night, however, as the Wildcats struggled to get into their offensive sets against Alabama's pressure. Villanova recorded just six assists and committed 14 turnovers.
"I hope Alabama is a great team," Wright said. "They're a lot better than us right now. There's a lot of little things that lead to a game like this, but mostly Alabama being very good."
In the semifinal matchup that preceded the championship, Oregon State defeated Purdue, 66-58. The Beavers were led by Devon Collier's 27 points and 14 rebounds.